Out with the green and in with the blue --  recycling bins, that is.

The Sunnyside neighborhood is the first neighborhood in Flagstaff to be part of the phased-in introduction of blue recycling bins, which is the international color to represent recycling. Presidio also uses blue bins for recycling, Assistant Public Works Director Kevin Mullaney said.

The change will eventually include the whole city, but is being instituted on a neighborhood basis.

The city regularly replaces trash and recycling bins as they break or decline in quality too much to be used, so the green bins that are still in good condition will be taken to replace older bins in neighborhoods that still use green bins, Mullaney said. The other bins that are not usable will be taken for recycling. The city budgeted $35,000 for replacement bins in the 2017 fiscal year, and also received a grant, which is being used to purchase the new blue bins, he said.

Public Works Director Andy Bertelsen said recent waste audits have shown that the city’s contamination rate is about 35 percent, meaning “a lot of people are using their recycling bins as trash cans.”

Blue is a more widely recognized color for recycling, Bertelsen said, and said hopefully people will be more aware of which bin they are using for recyclable items.

“We are a community that values sustainability, but the recycling rates don’t show that,” Bertelsen said.

The existing gray trash containers and green recycling bins look similar and can easily be confused, Bertelsen said. The more vibrant blue color might make the recycling bin more easily distinguishable and more likely to be used properly, he said.

The city chose to implement the change in Sunnyside so they can complete targeted waste audits, basically sorting through items that have been dumped in recycling bins to determine how much is actually recyclable, to determine how effective the change has been, Bertelsen said.

Nicole Woodman, the city’s sustainability manager, said the large number of tourists, as well as Northern Arizona University students in Flagstaff, might be more used to recognizing blue as a color for recycling. NAU also uses blue receptacles for recycling.

The city uses separate blue glass recycling bins, too, but they are much smaller and collected only once a month.

Putting items that are not recyclable into recycling bins increases the program’s cost, because the waste has to be sorted at the materials recovery facility, then the items that are not recyclable must be taken to the landfill, Bertelsen said.

“It’s a much dirtier process,” he said.

Woodman said contamination makes the program less effective, and said the color change could make the program more cost effective over time.

To help educate the neighborhood about recycling, graduates of the city’s new master recyclers program have volunteered to go door-to-door and answer questions and spread information about the program. So far, the master recyclers have talked to about 1,000 people, she said.

So far, the city has spent two Fridays replacing bins in Sunnyside, and the citywide shift might take place over the course of a few years.

The reporter can be reached at cvanek@azdailysun.com or 556-2249.

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Corina Vanek covers city government, city growth and development for the Arizona Daily Sun.

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