Tucson plans to convert landfill into a sustainable campus

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TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) – The Los Reales landfill in Tucson has a new name, but the change is just the first step in an effort to completely restructure the facility into an environmentally friendly resource.

Tucson City Council voted unanimously on July 7 to rename the landfill to “Los Reales Sustainability Campus” after the facility has set itself the goal of achieving zero waste.

The move supports the council’s 2020 climate emergency declaration that commits Tucson to becoming a zero waste city by 2050 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2030.

“We have really tried to see the Los Reales landfill as a space for innovation and sustainability,” said Mayor Regina Romero. “To become a zero waste city, we really have to reinvent and think about our landfill in a different way. “


Los Reales opened in 1967 and is Tucson’s only active landfill. Each day, the facility receives about 2,300 tons of solid waste and the city says it spends more than $ 8 million each year to process the waste here.


Along with the new name of the facility comes plans to change its landscape while implementing sustainability programs to divert as much waste from the landfill as possible.

Over the past year, city officials have sought to implement Tucson’s climate resilience goals in the 1,200-acre (5-square-kilometer) landfill. According to Carlos de la Torre, director of Tucson’s Environment and General Services Department, Los Reales was the place to start seeing waste as an asset rather than a liability.

“We identify a single asset that can be a model for what climate resolution will look like,” he said. “We think Los Reales is a key part of that, and we are able to check a lot of those boxes with the facility we already have.”

While the plan is still in its infancy, the long-term goal is to reroute the waste cycle throughout the city so that it can be reused as production material instead of being buried in the landfill.

But how does a landfill, a landfill for city waste, achieve the objective of creating no waste?

Of the waste that the city’s recycling program receives, only about 17% is actually recycled. De la Torre is considering a “multi-pronged” waste diversion strategy to increase this number to 40%.

Some initial ideas include composting food waste, filtering recyclable material out of landfill, and sending plastic to a waste-to-energy facility where the material is burned and turned into electricity or fuel.

Ultimately, part of the waste that ends up in landfill cannot be reused. The term “zero waste” is more of an ambitious goal.

“Is it going to go to purely zero (waste)? Probably not, ”said de la Torre. “But we are trying to reduce the volume by 60-70% once we have exhausted all means to ensure that we find a beneficial use for these products before we land them in landfill.”

Los Reales has around 70 years of remaining capacity for the city’s waste, according to de la Torre. Part of the campus sustainability initiative, he says, is to add public use components to “maximize the full extent of what might be available.”

The preliminary concept for the sustainability campus includes 110 acres (44.5 hectares) for expanding the landfill portion of the landfill and approximately 350 acres (142 hectares) for economic development and sustainability projects around the perimeter of the landfill.

City staff are proposing to build sports fields, trails and open community space for educational centers and recycling shops.

“As a rule, we wait until the landfills are closed before we start using the landfill as an open space,” said de la Torre. “We want to make sure we start doing it now, rather than waiting for the landfill to close.”

The goal is to transform the facility into an educational space where residents can learn what happens to their waste while being able to give discarded items a second chance for use in the last stores. luck.

“We are trying to change the mindset, because if we don’t see it, we don’t understand it,” said de la Torre. “Once we put this waste in the trash, we have to take responsibility for that waste for its entire lifespan. We have to be mindful that whatever we generate does not go away because someone took it away. “

While making the landfill more accessible to its surrounding community, the Los Reales renovation also includes a number of sustainability programs, including a nursery, a construction debris treatment center, and a material recovery facility to siphon recyclables from waste. landfills.

But the wide array of programs on offer comes at a price, although an exact cost has yet to be determined. De la Torre says the planning process will include an important contribution from the community, but that ultimately most of the expense will be “generated by user fees.”

For example, local contractors bringing construction debris to the facility will be charged more for processing the material into a second use material instead of dumping it in the landfill.

Sorting city waste can also involve the deployment of a “dirty materials recovery center”, or a sorting plant that collects all waste and sorts the different types of materials for their respective reuse.

The city is currently contracting with Republic Services to sort recyclable materials. In the future, says de la Torre, residents may only have one trash can to throw away their waste, which will be sorted in Los Reales. The change would likely mean an increase in Tucson’s residential garbage collection bills.

“We used to look at the bottom line in terms of the financial component. Now we need to have a holistic view of the impact of our operations and the difference we can make, ”he said. “It requires investment, it requires a change in the way we do business today, and it really tests the will of all of us as residents to be able to cope with this change. “

At this point, the proposed methods of turning Los Reales from a final stop for waste to a land of sustainable reuse and public participation are just ideas. Community outreach and guidance from the mayor and council will move the plan forward.

City staff will return to city council on August 10 with a roadmap outlining how to reach the landfill zero waste goal. If approved, most projects would not start until September through December, with the final zero waste plan due to be finalized within a year.

“It’s still very conceptual, but it’s a good starting point for implementing many of these programs or strategies,” said de la Torre. “It’s going to be a paradigm shift for the way we view waste here in Tucson. “


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