Sustainability: Resource Innovation Campus

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The Phoenix Public Works Department recently presented a plan to create and develop a Resource Innovation Campus at a city-owned vacant lot. The campus will be used to help develop and grow waste-to-new product industries. Public Works director John Trujillo and Community and Economic Development director Christine Mackay will discuss the project.

Ted Simons: Tonight's look at Arizona sustainability focuses on a recent plan put forth by the Phoenix public works department to create and develop a resource innovation campus at a city-owned vacant lot. The campus will be used to help develop and grow waste-to-new product industries. Here to explain all of this is Phoenix public works director John Trujillo and community and economic development director Christine Mackay. Good to see you both here. Thank you for joining us.

John Trujillo: Thank you.

Christine MacKay: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Resource innovation campus, what exactly are we talking about?

John Trujillo: Well, basically finding a way to turn trash into resources. So, in order to do that, we have to bring in new businesses interested in utilizing our trash for as an input to their process, whether manufacturing furniture, different product so to speak is what we are looking for.

Ted Simons: Waste to new, definition of that.

Christine MacKay: Looking for companies that will take a product that we normally would have sent to a landfill and turn it into something new that could be sold as a commodity, used as a product and give it new live.

Ted Simons: Campus would have a transfer station that would turn X in Y.

Christine MacKay: It is. Who would have thought I would be selling trash.

Ted Simons: I guess the idea is to avoid sending all of this to the landfill.

John Trujillo: That's true. That's what we're trying to do. We send out a million tons of trash to the landfill. To do that, we transport over 7 million miles every year doing it and that is going to the moon and back 14 times. A lot of trash that we collect in the city of Phoenix.

Ted Simons: Fuel energy, miles, cost, do we know what this could save?

John Trujillo: Right now, we looked at 40% diversion. Looking at from $4 to $8 million that we're looking at that we could possibly save by trying to turn some of this trash into a resource.

Ted Simons: Campus, again, location, city-owned vacant lot, what part of town?

Christine MacKay: Southwest Phoenix, 27th avenue. A former city facility that has been made available for new companies to move into.

Ted Simons: And the idea is for a resource cluster of these kinds of businesses? Talk about it.

Christine MacKay: It is, it is looking for companies that have innovative ideas, create a new commodity, new product, and take it forward for sale. Companies who have ideas, need a proof of concept and a material to take forward and turn it into a marketable, manufacturing job producing company.

Ted Simons: Are there models for taking waste products, sending them to the transfer station, making mulch or furniture out of them?

Christine MacKay: Mulch for sure. That is a common thing that happens. Other products, that is quite a rarity. Most cities send it to landfills and don't reprocess. Looking for that innovation campus, how this could work.

Ted Simons: How did this plan get started? I look at models -- did you look at other areas, other ideas floating around out there?

John Trujillo: There was one other idea, myself and another colleague traveled to Edmonton, Canada, to look at a site up there and what they're doing. Similar to what we're trying to do. But more this is more of a public/private partnership. Edmonton more of a city-run process and they build the facilities and do it themselves.

Ted Simons: Was there a spark that got this public partnership, public/private partnership, was there a spark that got this whole thing going?

Christine MacKay: As we talk between economic development and public works, and talked about how this could create jobs for Phoenix, how this could take our trash and actually turn it into something that will employ our citizens and maybe drive that next new technology or company, our teams work together to create the concept and I think that's what the spark came from.

Ted Simons: If you have a campus of these kinds of businesses as well, you have economic development out there, would you not?

Christine MacKay: You do.

Ted Simons: That area needs economic development.

Christine MacKay: It does. If you look at all of Phoenix and entire Metro area, more innovative jobs we create, higher wage jobs, and they draw attention nationally to the community.

Ted Simons: When you talked about how much money this would save, you had a 40% diversion rate. That's the goal. Right now, Phoenix is not at a 40% -- as a matter of fact, Phoenix diversion rate is below the United States average. What is going on there?

John Trujillo: We are working hard. We're at 20% now. Goal is 40%. A lot of it is trying to change behavior and get residents to understand the importance of what they throw away. And trying to figure out other ways of dealing with it other than just throwing it and then retransferring it to the landfill.

Ted Simons: So there are some misconceptions out there, what are people doing that you would like to see change?

John Trujillo: I would like to see them recycle more. Waste study have shown, 15% of what they throw in the garbage is recyclable material. And that alone could create an additional revenue of $4.5 million.

Ted Simons: Wow.

John Trujillo: That's what they throw away. Additional revenue that we can achieve.

Ted Simons: I would imagine the cost of having to separate the stuff that shouldn't be in this barrel or that barrel --

John Trujillo: The contamination rate in Phoenix is about 21% is what we found. That's equal to over $1 million in excess fees we are charged because of people not throwing the right things in the right barrel.

Ted Simons: As far as, again, economic development, I was reading that this would move the idea was to move from a linear to a more circular economic model. Explain that.

Christine MacKay: Absolutely. Today you take a raw material and you turn it into a finished good and the consumer uses that finished good and then it goes to a landfill. Linear economy. The product has a beginning life and an end life. In a circular economy, you are taking that raw material, you're turning it into a finished good, selling it to a consumer, and the consumer is able to recycle it back to another product and a company can take it and turn it into something else that perhaps it wasn't even before and put it back into the economy again, creating a circular economy.

Ted Simons: Are there companies out there now eyeing this thing, you know, I could use waste and build X, Y, Z. This is the kind of thing, you build the campus, transfer station and business up and going and then businesses will follow.

Christine MacKay: We have been fortunate in that matter. Did a request for proposal, and we had 18 great responses to the request for proposal already. We haven't started building. We put out to the community internationally. What would you do with this? And we have 18 RFPs being reviewed now and we hope to take them to city council by July 1st. What is even more exciting, we did a call for innovators. Sent out to the industry and said what would you do with this? We received 118 responses. We are working through those now. With that information, we will go back out with another RFP --

Ted Simons: We've talked about how much this would save the city of Phoenix, how much is this going to cost to get up and operational?

John Trujillo: That we don't know yet. The goal of everything we're trying to do is get the businesses, scholars, entrepreneurs and experts and municipal leaders working together to turn that trash into treasures. Once we go through the process, as Chris mentioned, then we will see what they have to offer based on that. We might have to offer as an example; we are going to be offering land. And the infrastructure needed for these businesses to come on board and for them to work through the process. We've also lining up capital that businesses could possibly have access to that we're working through as well. If they need capital for their process, there might be some available, too.

Ted Simons: All right. It sounds very encouraging and interesting as well. Good to have you both here. Thank you for joining us.

John Trujillo: Thank you.

Christine MacKay: Thank you.

John Trujillo:Director,Phoenix Public Works Department; Christine Mackay:Community and Economic Development Director, City of Phoenix Community and Economic Development;

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