Safford bids adieu to Friedman Recycling

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: Starting Monday, May 6, the city of Safford will be collecting its blue recycle bins and will go back to twice-a-week regular trash pickups.

Council gives direction to city manager to buy out contract; recycling program to end as it is now known

By Jon Johnson

SAFFORD – The writing was on the wall regarding the demise of the city of Safford’s recycling program with Friedman Recycling, and at Monday night’s city council meeting the death knell was rung. However, for those who still want to recycle, the city may make accommodations.  

The Safford City Council gave direction to Safford City Manager Horatio Skeete to buyout the rest of its contract with Friedman Recycling for roughly $100,000, effectively ending the city’s recycling program as it is now known.

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: Safford’s recycling program helped reduce the amount of material that ended up in the landfill. The program as it is now known will be terminated, starting in May.

City Councilor Chris Taylor said the program ceased to be fiscally viable and a large number of residents refused to place only recyclable materials in the blue bins. 

“The people use the blue can just for trash,” Taylor said. 

The city began its recycling program Sept. 24, 2015, and had a five-year contract with Friedman Recycling to rent its blue recycling bins and have the company transport the recyclable materials to Phoenix. However, as first reports in the Gila Herald’s article “Safford recycling program operating on life support (Gila Herald-Aug. 1)”, the cost of the rental of 3,300 containers and the price to have Friedman haul away the collected recyclables was listed at about $11,000 per month. With the city now only getting $1 per ton of material, the cost to haul the recyclables did not make fiscal sense.

At that time, Skeete was quoted as saying, “It will continue to be a challenge to send it to Phoenix at that price. If the market returns to $15 to $20 per ton, then there’s absolutely no reason to not do it because then the cost is minimal. If it stays at $1 (per ton), then it will continue to be a strictly emotional decision rather than a financial decision.”

Recycling prices plummeted from $30 per ton to $1 per ton due mostly to the shutdown of the Chinese market. At an August 2018 council meeting, Skeete estimated the recycling program was costing the city $228,000 per year to run, while regular trash pickup and disposal at the landfill cost $697,477. The recycling cost was based on expenses required to run the entire sanitation department in 2017.

According to Skeete, the sanitation department had revenues of $1,179,000 in 2017, while expenses were $907,477.

“So, the difference between the consolidated amount collected and the consolidated costs of recycling and sanitation services was $272,000,” Skeete said at the August, 2018 meeting. So, collectively, the program is still paying for itself.”

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: The goal of recycling for the city of Safford was to help extend the life of the landfill.

However, the council has soured on the idea of mandatory recycling while partnering with Friedman and has asked all of its sanitation customers to place the blue recycle bins out at the curb by Monday, May 6, to be collected and returned to Friedman. 

According to Taylor, the city may still have a recycling program for those residents who want to continue to recycle. He said those who wish to continue recycling would need to call the Public Works office at 928-432-4172 and advise them that you would like to do so. Those who continue to recycle will still have the two-day trash pickups but for an extra charge of $3 per month, the city would keep picking up recycling once per week, possibly on Wednesdays. All the bins will still be turned back into Friedman Recycling, and those who wish to continue recycling would receive a new bin, according to Taylor.

“If you pay the extra $3 on top of your $19 charge for trash then you can continue to recycle,” Taylor said. “We’ll just take the bins ourself and figure it out ourself . . . We don’t really know exactly how it’s going to work but we know that we would be able to keep recycling, just on a voluntary basis and not on a mandatory basis.”

However, when the Gila Herald called Public Works, the employee advising of the recycling situation was not aware of the volunteer extension recycling program but did say she was taking down names and numbers of residents and businesses who wanted to continue to recycle. She added that if enough people didn’t sign up, the city would not have any recycling program whatsoever.  

Effect on Thatcher’s recycling program

The town of Thatcher began its recycling program by placing large collection containers at strategic locations around town in April 2017 and last year it was mulling over switching to curbside recycling like the Safford model.  

With its current model tied to the Safford program since the town dumps its recycling pickups into the Safford roll off at the Safford Regional Landfill, Thatcher Mayor Bob Rivera doesn’t see how the town will be able to continue recycling and said it will likely have to curtail such operations.

“The only thing we can do is follow suit,” Rivera said. “What can we do? Either take it in the black can to the garbage dump or take it in the blue can to the garbage dump – what’s the difference? It’s going to go to the garbage dump.”

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