Waste Not, Want Not: The Circular Economy in Metro Phoenix

 

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By Bharat Venkatesh

When one talks about sustainable cities in the U.S., Phoenix is certainly a hot topic – but unfortunately for not all the right reasons. The Phoenix Metropolitan area is the 12th largest in the country by population and continues to grow at a constantly accelerating pace, even though it already makes up over two-thirds of the entire state population. This sprawling population generates over a million tons of trash each year. Still, all is not lost. The City of Phoenix is undergoing heavy undertakings to improve sustainability, dealing with carbon emissions, waste management, water stewardship, land use, clean air, parks and open spaces. Apart from these measures, there is one strategy that could cover many problems at once: the circular economy.

A linear economy is known to accelerate economic development, albeit at the cost of a tremendous amount of resources that Phoenix is unable to provide. As such, only the restorative and regenerative advantages of a circular economy can revive the natural resources of Metro Phoenix while maintaining its continuous growth – and it is fitting, considering that the mythical Phoenix is a bird of rebirth. In October, the U.S. Chamber conducted a Circular Economy in Action tour to display several local companies’ efforts.

Intel Arizona

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With more than 11,000 employees, Intel Arizona is the company’s second largest site in the U.S. Its Chandler campus is also the largest employer in Arizona. In addition to having a calculated $5.3 billion annual impact on the state’s economy, the company can be considered one of the champions of environmental stewardship and serves as an example for sustainability standards not only in the state but worldwide. The Phoenix Business Journal ranked Intel first in regards to the amount of LEED-certified space in Phoenix, and its green building design standards suffuse its Chandler and Ocotillo campuses, with the newest R&D facility in Chandler receiving LEED Gold certification. Water management and a robust recycling program are flagships of Intel Arizona’s sustainability program.

Mayo Clinic

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Ranked first among hospitals not only in Arizona but the entire country, the Mayo Clinic focuses on their patients first. However, they certainly understand that there is a link between the health of their patients and that of the environment. Five key aspects of sustainability at the clinic are energy management, waste stream, supply chain, industry engagement and built environment. To minimize replacing items at both their Phoenix and Scottsdale campuses, they choose durable materials that can be recycled without compromising health care. This, along with a mostly paper-free environment, ensures that they minimize their waste stream. The Mayo Clinic also has sensors and monitoring systems to regulate energy usage in rooms depending on the temperature, humidity and current usage, thereby halting unnecessary energy wastage in unused rooms.

Recycled City, LLC

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A start-up food scraps hauler and recycler founded in January 2014, Recycled City already serves a customer base of more than 500 residential and 50 commercial accounts as of 2016. They divert approximately 15 tons of food waste from Phoenix Metro area landfills every week, which is entirely converted into compost at local farms and community gardens. The compost is either used on-site to support farming operations or returned to residential customers for their own home gardens. Each customer receives an airtight bin and bag of bokashi (to help break down the compost) that is picked up every week or biweekly, allowing customers to recycle their uneaten leftovers and food scraps to generate local food.

Resource Innovation Campus

In 2013, the City of Phoenix Public Works Department, under Mayor Greg Stanton and City Council members, announced Reimagine Phoenix, a city-wide sustainability initiative working to divert 40 percent of waste from local landfills. John Trujillo, the director of Public Works, envisions the program as a circular economy system where solid waste is transformed into products with utility. As for the Resource Innovation Campus, it encompasses a site intended to drive economic growth and increase job availability by gathering innovators and proposals that can generate ideas to repurpose and reuse trash, thereby converting them into valuable resources. The campus consists of the 27th Avenue Transfer Station, Municipal Recycling Facility, a composting program, an under-construction compost facility, an artist in residency program, Palm Silage (a company that turns palm fronds into animal feed), as well as the future home of the Technology Solutions Incubator.


For more information on the recent Circular Economy in Action tour, visit uschamberfoundation.org.

Bharat Venkatesh is a journalist living in Tempe, Arizona, who feels spreading awareness about the importance of sustainability should be a part of every journalist’s ethical goal to seek the truth and report it.

Photos courtesy of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

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