Gilbert is looking for a fresh approach in dealing with challenges in its Environmental Services Division – namely recycling.
Town staff is proposing a partnership with Arizona State University’s Project Cities Program where students would help come up with a “strategic vision” to guide the department for the next decade. The proposed $50,000 contract is on Tuesday’s council consent agenda.
“ASU’s Project Cities has the best and brightest minds from all over the globe,” town spokeswoman Jennifer Snyder explained in an email. “Collaborating with ASU provides a unique opportunity to connect research and resources of a major university with the local community.
“It also provides students with workforce development opportunities in a real-world environment. This collaboration allows for different perspectives and new approaches for Gilbert’s challenges.”
Weekly pick-ups of recyclables have become a money-loser for Gilbert.
After China in 2017 began restricting the import of most of the world’s recyclables, Gilbert and other municipalities in the country have seen their recycling programs go from being a revenue generator to where it was costing them. The town was earning money from its recyclables up until 2018.
“The per ton cost for processing recycle material continues to be higher than the cost to landfill,” Snyder noted.
Environmental Services in 2022 collected just over 18,000 tons of recyclables, diverting 17% of waste from ending up in the landfill, according to Snyder.
The town currently delivers 100% of the collected recyclables to United Fibers for processing but some items may end up in the landfill due to the lack of demand in the marketplace for them, she said.
The study also will look at the feasibility of an in-house sorting facility versus the town continuing to contract with a vendor.
A municipal-operated facility may allow for more flexibility when it comes to accepting material in the recycle program or processing the material, according to Snyder.
“Discussions for such a facility are in its infancy,” she said. “A feasibility study is needed to gain a better understanding of Gilbert’s needs and opportunities.”
She said Gilbert has had discussions with the City of Mesa regarding a study to explore the idea of a joint facility and that staff will be asking for funding in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget to do that study.
The town also wants the program’s students to explore new, innovative ways to divert waste from landfills while creating a market for them.
“A study of the material in Gilbert’s waste stream may lead to new uses for it or even new ventures for private enterprise,” Snyder said. “If a local company needed material and Gilbert was able to deliver, it would be a win for the community and the environment.”
The students also would be tasked with exploring how the town can manage Environmental Services’ fleet and equipment more efficiently.
According to the proposal, ASU students, in designated courses, would work directly with the town to identify sustainability-related challenges, policies, and issues.
The students would then research difficult problems and propose innovative solutions to help the Town make informed decisions.
Under the contract, ASU would need to submit its final project summary reports to the Town by Dec. 31, 2023.
ASU launched the Project Cities program in 2017.
So far four municipalities that have sort out ASU’s Project Cities Program for expertise – Apache Junction, Glendale, Peoria and Clarkdale.