BISBEE — If the city is awarded an Environmental Protection Agency grant, it could make Bisbee a center for certain recyclables for the town, the city of Douglas, Cochise County and other county communities.
Public Works Director Matt Gurney explained the grant program is provided through the EPA’s solid waste infrastructure for recycling program (SWIFER), a $275 million program under the Save Our Seas act in 2022 in support of the Building a Better America act.
SWIFER seeks to improve recycling strategies for post–consumer materials and assist local waste management authorities to improve systems, according to the EPA. Recycling materials may include plastics, organics, paper, metal, glass and construction and demolition debris. It also includes the management pathways of source reduction, reuse, sending materials to material recovery facilities, composting and industrial uses.
The objectives of SWIFER include expanding and optimizing collection of recyclables while improving the technology, infrastructure or other improvements to reduce contamination in the recycled materials stream and find better markets to sell the recycled materials.
EPA anticipates awarding approximately 25 assistance agreements under this funding opportunity, with at least one award per each EPA region. The minimum individual award is $500,000 and the maximum individual award ceiling is $4 million.
Gurney said he would ask for $3.5 million, just under the upper limit cap.
He said the grant money would pay for a new larger bailer, a glass crusher and an air burner which is said to trap carbon waste emissions, a forklift, a truck, a building to house the bailer, fencing and one new position to oversee the recycling operation.
The recycling center would be moved from its current location behind the Bisbee transfer station to nearby city property to accommodate more materials, including plant waste, which is why he is asking for air burner that turns green material into biochar, a charcoal-like substance that results from the burning of organic waste. Biochar is a valuable soil amendment and can be used for agricultural uses large and small.
Gurney was told biochar can be sold at the rate of $120 a ton. The heat created in the burning process can be engineered into providing electrical energy that could be used to charge the electric forklift on the list.
The glass crusher will allow the city to crush glass waste down to sand to use in making concrete, he said. Currently, public works recycling staff have to crush the glass before it is hauled to a buyer in Phoenix.
The city would be the responsible grant management entity for the proposed coalition utilizing a multi–pronged approach not only establishing new recycling projects, but expanding current recycling efforts, optimizing collection, improving materials management infrastructure and increase their market value.
Bisbee will give Douglas one of its trailers to help kickstart Douglas’ first foray into the recycling of cardboard and green waste and the new chipper, Gurney said. Douglas agreed to transport its cardboard to the recycling center.
The county will divert green waste from the transfer station so it can be re-created in the air burner.
Marty Haverty, county Public Works director, said in an email, “We have discussed the possibility of removing some yard waste from the waste stream coming into the Bisbee transfer station and diverting it to the proposed city yard waste composting facility which would be funded by the grant.
“If the grant comes to fruition and their operation is set up, I do not foresee our participation to have a significant impact on the volume of material to be processed. We have not entered into a formal agreement with the other two cities and I am in the discussion phase with Bisbee’s Public Works Director at this time.”
While the City Council shared Gurney’s enthusiasm for the new program, there were details about cost sharing and other unexpected expenses that might arise in establishing such a center.
If the grant is awarded, there are steps the city will have to take to set up this new coalition, said City Attorney Joe Estes.
Intergovernmental agreements will work out all the details at that time.
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