The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:
Every day, millions of tons of waste plastic are deposited in landfills, on the sides of our roadways and into the ocean, polluting our environment, adding to greenhouse gas emissions and killing marine wildlife. The world is awash in plastic. It is an international problem in search of local solutions. In the city of Tucson, we’re embarking on a program that is our approach to thinking globally and acting locally. Soft Building Blocks
On Aug. 1, my office kicked off a pilot project in which we wanted to see the community’s interest in finding a productive use for plastic waste. In partnership with the city department of environmental services, ByFusion and Tank’s Green Stuff we began collecting the waste plastic hundreds of people have been providing.
At the start of the project we set a goal of collecting 20 tons of non-recyclable plastic by the end of the calendar year and signing up 500 people who want to be a part of our local solution. At year’s end we have collected over 35 tons of plastic and have over 1,500 people signed up with the program.
Thirty-five tons is enough to create a pile of plastic 25 feet long, 10 feet wide and 500 feet tall. That’s three times taller than the student housing towers located at Tyndall and Speedway. Based on those outcomes at least 2 things are certain; one, the community wants to take part in a local solution to this international problem, and two, the pilot program cannot sunset on Jan. 1. There is far too much momentum from the public to walk away from what we’ve begun.
ByFusion is a company that is right now headquartered in southern California. They take the non-recyclable plastics many of you have been bringing to the Ward 6 office, shred the material and through a process of heat and compression create construction-grade blocks called ByBlocks. The blocks are 22 pounds of plastic yielding a 22-pound block. The product is all about creating a zero-waste stream.
During the pilot portion of this program, we have built benches at the playground just west of the Himmel Park library, installed a bench in the Green Stormwater Infrastructure pocket park in San Gabriel neighborhood, constructed a trash enclosure out at the El Pueblo Community Center and have several large-scale projects in design with multiple groups located in Tucson, Phoenix and up in Flagstaff.
In celebration of the success of the program we invited the community to the Ward 6 office and built a holiday tree using ByBlocks. The tree is made up of nearly 1,600 pounds of plastic, all of which has been successfully diverted from the landfill. After the holiday season we will disassemble the tree and transform it into a raised planter bed. Since there is no concrete involved in building with the blocks there is an inherent flexibility built into working with them. And the labor costs of using ByBlock in comparison to regular cinder block are substantially lower. The group of us who built the holiday tree had it erected in about 30 minutes.
The challenge is no longer determining whether or not the community will support the program. Not only have hundreds of residents supported the work, but we have all sorts of commercial partners helping to make the program work. Our commercial partners include movie theaters, nurseries, swimming pool maintenance companies, micro-breweries, restaurants, pet supply stores, the Assistance League and many more. One local company that’s on board produces plastic labels for many of the products we buy. They produce roughly 100,000 pounds of waste plastic monthly. Prior to now all of that has been headed to the landfill. We want it in our program.
There are companies who benefit from the waste plastic. Commercial waste haulers charge businesses by the ton plus a “trip fee” to simply come and pick up the waste and dump it in the landfill. Think of the plastic labels — at 100,000 pounds per month that one company is paying nearly $3,000 per month just to have their waste thrown into the dump. The partnership we’re pulling together can save them money while at the same time result in the production of construction blocks that can be sold and used in a totally environmentally friendly manner. The only losers are the commercial haulers who are right now enjoying the fact that waste plastic is unavoidable.
In January I’ve requested a study session item to talk about how to scale-up the program. I’m very pleased that both Mayor Romero and Council member Dahl have co-signed the agenda request. This program is absolutely aligned with the city’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan. Our challenge is to identify the role the city and ByFusion will each play, and sort out the logistics and costs involved. Clearly the community has bought into the program. Our job is to figure out how to keep it going.
The San Gabriel neighborhood received a new bench in a median. Councilmember Steve Kozachik is pushing the city to use blocks made from plastic in future construction projects. The 22-pound blocks are made of plastics considered unrecyclable by standard recycling plants, such as plastic grocery bags, bubble wrap or products contaminated by food waste. The blocks are made by a L.A. based startup, ByFusion. This is their first project in Tucson. Video by: Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star
Steve Kozachik represents Ward 6 on the Tucson City Council.
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