Existing landfills continue to emit pollutants which adversely impact Phoenix’s air quality despite changes to the City’s waste treatment practices. The City was determined to not only reduce the amount of new waste sent to landfills, but mitigate the risks of existing waste as well. In order to do so, the Public Works department installed an advanced gas capture and control system on the City’s active landfill which has avoided carbon dioxide equivalent emissions of 2,300 metric tons since it opened in 2006.
In 2015, the City issued a request for information as a call for innovators and received an outpouring of responses from around the world. The Public Works Department instituted the Reimagine Phoenix Initiative as a necessary step toward reaching the City’s goals of diverting 40% of waste away from the landfill by 2020 and to ultimately achieve zero waste by 2050. The initiative also converted 50 acres of vacant public land adjacent to a transfer station, complete with a materials recovery facility, a closed landfill and an industrial-scale compost facility into the Resource Innovation Campus (RIC). The RIC is aa circular economy hub where private manufacturers can lease land at attractive rates from the City, and use feedstock from the City’s waste stream to generate economic activity.
Addressing a particularly salient issue, the facility has established an innovative partnership to divert palm fronds from the waste stream. Prior to this initiative, palm fronds were sent to the landfill given that their fibrous nature and slow decomposition rates made them impossible to include in typical organic waste treatment operations. The initiative has devised a system by hiring a diversion contractor to manufacture palm fronds into livestock feed materials, creating 12 new jobs and generating an estimated $10 million in sales annually.
The initiative has made a concerted effort to develop a range of educational components for Phoenix residents and businesses. A designated Zero Waste team delivers waste reduction workshops to over 12,000 residents and facilitates close to 100 tours of the City’s materials recovery facilities each year. In addition, each year the team hosts 70 public events and sets up 50 informational booths. For an even wider reach, Phoenix has partnered with an organization to develop an app to provide recycling education and incentives on the go to more than 35,000 residents. The Phoenix Green Business Leader program recognizes businesses in Phoenix that are making strides in establishing policies and practices that reduce, reuse and recycle waste and provides free tools and expertise to member businesses on waste diversion and conservation.
This initiative makes Phoenix more sustainable, while generating economic activity in new business opportunities to turn discarded resources into new products, and creating jobs locally. In dedicating time and resources to research and education, the Reimagine Phoenix programme has established itself as a valuable example for other cities working to minimise or reuse waste streams. The success of the Reimagine Phoenix Initiative earned Phoenix an invitation to be the first U.S. city with membership to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Circular Economy 100 Group. This recognition has the potential to widen the impact of the initiative by giving the project more visibility.