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Earth Notes: Plastics Recycling

City of Flagstaff Sustainability Section

How hard is it to go plastics-free? That’s a question many communities in the U.S. are asking since China stopped accepting our plastic waste.

Flagstaff is one of those communities, which is faced with putting more plastic into one of the most scenic landfills in America with its view of the San Francisco Peaks. One person works full-time at that site to stop windblown litter spreading onto the surrounding forest.

Among the worst offenders are plastic shopping bags—nicknamed ‘witches knickers’ as they snag on shrubs and fences. The bags not only take decades to decay—but also clog storm drains, add costs at recycling plants, and even kill animals if they’re ingested.

Flagstaff recently implemented a rethink waste plan in a first step towards a goal of zero waste. One option is pay as you throw, charging by volume as an incentive to customers to produce less trash and recycle more.

Another test project has looked at reducing contamination of the recycling stream, especially at multi-family residences. At one large apartment complex in town, a recycling dumpster was placed next to every trash dumpster—increasing recyclable collection rates from 11 percent to around 80 percent. More dual dumpster locations are planned and will be encouraged for new developments.

But some see another solution in legislating two or three recyclable types of plastics with returnable deposits—similar to Norway, where 97 percent of plastic is now recycled.

Or refusing plastic altogether … as the surfing town of Penzance, England, has done. It’s the first global community to go completely plastics-free.

For more information on recycling in Arizona, see

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