Managing Waste in Arizona

Before diving into the gritty details of the massive amounts of waste produced in Tucson, Arizona, and the country, let’s observe the life of a single soda bottle (glass, plastic or aluminum); something we should all be able to relate to. Bottles are first manufactured at the processing center and then distributed to individual markets for sale; all of which consumes massive amounts of energy/fuel (the topic of another article). Consumers pick up a bottle from the store then drink and throw it away (or hopefully recycle). To many, one bottle in the trash may not make any difference. Although… last year Coca-Cola sold 5.4 billion servings of beverages in the U.S alone; the majority being in plastic, aluminum or glass bottles.(1) Per Arizona state capita, that’s estimated to be about 110 million bottles of Coke products consumed every year. So, what happens to all those empty bottles?

The city of Tucson produces about 740 tons of residential municipal solid waste (MSW) (packaging, furniture, clothing, bottles, food scraps, newspaper, etc.) every day, and only 180 tons of that is recycled.(2) The EPA estimates 75% of all MSW is recyclable, while only 35% is actually recycled in the U.S.(3). This puts Tucson below average at about 32% of all recyclables being recycled. Those 560 tons of residential trash adds up to just over 200 thousand tons of trash produced in Tucson every year. All of this waste is distributed across three active landfills in Pima county (Los Reales, Sahuarita, and Ajo), but only one resides locally in Tucosn.(4) Pima county’s trash production adds to a total of 1.1 million tons with Arizona’s total trash production just over 5 million tons.(3,4) In weight, that’s almost 100 Titanic ships every year, while 40 Titanic equivalents could be recycled or reused, but are not.

Now let’s go back and take a look at that single coke bottle. If that bottle is aluminum, it will sit in a landfill for ~80 years before fully decomposing; glass ~500 years, and plastic won’t decompose for more that 500 years.(5) With only 35% (~32% in Tucson) of these bottles being recycled or reused, that’s 71.5 million bottles a year of just wasted coke bottles sitting in landfills for centuries. Unfortunately, those 71.5 million bottles add up to be just a drop in the bucket compared to the many other products that contribute to the 100 Titanics worth of MSW thrown away.

What are some useful tips that will help you reduce Tucson’s MSW production? Of course recycling seems obvious but some items that can be recycled are not as obvious as others. You can find out more by visiting:

Some people live in apartments or neighborhoods that do not have a recycling pick up. You can simply drop off your own recycling at the sites found by visiting:

More helpful tips include:

  1. eliminate the consumption of disposable items, such as coffee filters, dusters, plastic grocery bags, paper cups, etc
  2. donate old cloths to charitable groups, compost your leftover/spoiled food, use a sponge or washcloth in place of a paper towel, buy products with minimal packaging
  3. and (of course) follow GREEN for more helpful advice

A few interesting (and sad little) facts:(7)
1)    The average American office worker uses about 500 disposable cups every year.(6)
2)    Every year, Americans throw away enough paper and plastic cups, forks and spoons to circle the equator 300 times.(6)
3)    Every year, Americans use approximately 102.1 billion plastic bags.(7)
4)    The estimated 2.6 billion holiday cards sold each year in the U.S could fill a football field 10 stories high.(8)
5)    Approximately, 38,000 miles of ribbon is thrown away each year; enough to tie a bow around the earth.(8)
6)    In 2008, 31% of the trash generated in the U.S. was packaging; only 44% of that was recycled.(9)
7)    It has been estimated that recycling, re-using, and composting creates six to ten times more jobs than waste incineration and landfills.(10)
8)    In 2006, almost 1.3 million tons of plastic water bottles were produced in the U.S., requiring the energy equivalent of 50 million barrels of oil; 76.5% of these bottles ended up in landfills.(11)
9)    It takes almost 2,000 times as much energy to produce and transport the average bottle of water to Los Angeles as it would to produce the same amount of tap water.(11)
10)  Recycling 1 million cell phones (of the 140.3 million retired in 2007) allows 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium to be recovered.(12)


1. The Coca-Cola Company; United States Securities and Exchange Commission, Commission file no. 001-12217, 2013
2. Arizona Daily Star. Welcome to the StarNet: Beyond the Barrel, Retrieved April 2014, from
3. Environmental Protection Agency. Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2012, Retrieved April 2014, from
4. City of Tucson Waste Reduction and Recycling: Regional Issues, Retrieved April 2014, from
5. Wellfair, T. S.; Testing the Degradation Rates of Degradable, Non-degradable and Bio-degradable Plastics Within Simulated Marine Environments. The Plymouth Student Scientist 2008, 2, 243-301.
6. Wills, A.; 2010, June 21. Recycling To-Go Plastics, Retrieved April 2014, from
7. Clean Air Council, Waste and Recycling Facts, Retrieved April 2014, from   
8. California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery; 2009, December 3, ‘Give Green’ by Decking the Halls with Less Waste This Year!, Retrieved April 2014, from
9. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; 2009, November, Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States Detailed Tables and Figures for 2008. Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery, Retrieved April 2014, from
10. Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives; 2009, June 15, Despite Green Claims, Incinerator Industry Just Blowing Smoke, Retrieved April 2014, from
11. U.S. Government Accountability Office; 2009, June, Bottled Water: FDA Safety and Consumer Protections are Often Less Stringent than Comparable EPA Protections for Tap Water, Retrieved April 2014, from
12. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; 2010, March 1, Statistics on the Management of Used and End-of-Life Electronics, Retrieved April 2014, from