Surprise still searching for recycling options

Materials put in both the black trash bins and blue recycling bins will all be going to the landfill after Surprise suspended its recycling program last week. The city is looking at options to bring down costs and not raise rates for residents. [Jason Stone/Independent Newsmedia]


Changes in the recycling market are forcing the City of Surprise to temporarily move recyclable materials from the curbs to the trash.

Earlier this week, the city began temporarily diverting recyclables to the landfill as it researches cost-effective solutions to rising costs in the recycling market.

Calling it “not an easy decision” when announcing the move Aug. 12 in a news release, the temporary solution will mean no rate increases for residents.

“We are sensitive to any impact that our operational costs have on our residents’ rates,” Public Works Director Mike Gent said.

The city’s solid waste rates went up July 1 for the first time in nearly a decade. A recycling increase wasn’t built into the recent hike because of the uncertainty in the recycling market that started last year.

Waste Management had been providing recycling services for the last 18 months on an expired contract.

The world’s leading recycler was the only firm the submitted a proposal when the city put one out earlier this year.

“The city has closed out the recent Request for Proposal without accepting the one proposal that was received,” Mr. Gent said. “Surprise is very interested in exploring recycling options with any and all recycling vendors, including Waste Management.”

Neither side released details about the contract offer or how far the two sides were in coming to a deal.

Immediate reaction to the move on social media was mostly negative.

“This is totally ridiculous to stop recycling,” Surprise resident Rocco Leone wrote on

Deborah Wojnicz of Surprise called it an environmental issue.

“Kids and future generations deserve to have a green planet,” she wrote.

Mr. Gent said the current way the recyclables were sorted wasn’t cost-effective under the current pay structure.

He said half of the recyclables that trucks picked up in the last year were diverted to the landfill anyway because of contaminated items in the mix.

“Due to the high costs of processing recyclables and the low value and demand for recycled material around the country and world, Waste Management cannot provide assurances that this landfilling of a large portion of our city’s recyclables is going to change,” Mr. Gent said. “Surprise residents need a sustainable recycling solution that our city can depend on moving forward.”

Once China cut off imports of U.S. recyclables last year, it had a devastating effect on most municipalities across the country. It has forced cities like Surprise to find alternative ways to meet the public demand of recycling without breaking the bank.

Curbside recycling began in Surprise in 2004 with revenues from the service paying for its cost most of the time. But in December 2017 costs grew to $215,000 a year, putting a strain on the city budget.

That’s mostly because of a 300% increase in the market for dropping off the materials between May 2018 to this May. The city said those costs rose from $17,412 to $48,425 this year.

“Our city team is anxiously engaged trying to find a viable, sustainable long-term recycling solution,” Mr. Gent said. “While we hope that comes sooner than later, we are not putting an arbitrary timeline on that process.”

Mr. Gent said the city has “no plans to ever cancel” the recycling pickups completely.

“In contrast, we all recognize that responsible recycling is a critical part of our city’s future,” he said.

In the meantime, the city is asking customers to continue practicing its normal recycling behaviors by putting clean plastic bottles, cardboard, paper and aluminum cans in the blue recycling container.

“When we find a solution people will have never changed their habit of separating recyclables from trash,” Mr. Gent said.

As a result of these changes, the city will close its recycling drop-off location at 13430 W. Westgate Drive.

Arizona and Maricopa County solid waste regulations require that only clean recyclable items be placed in the blue recycling container.

That is to protect against container contamination and attracting insects and rodents to the container while it is curbside.

Bagged trash must only be placed in the black container. If you choose to throw recyclables in the black container, they must be bagged.

Components of the city’s recycling program, including education and inspection will continue as part of the city’s commitment to environmental sustainability.

Sanitation trucks is still picking up both containers on the same day at the same time but it will be using the same truck for now.

Customers are asked to have their containers out to the curb by 6 a.m. on their designated collection day.

Contact Utility Billing at 623-222-1900, or email

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