Changing a City’s Recycling Habits with City of Phoenix Public Works’ Felipe Moreno

August 18, 2014

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome to another edition of Green is Good. We’re so thankful to have with us today Felipe Moreno. He’s the Deputy Director of Phoenix Public Works. Welcome to Green is Good, Felipe. FELIPE MORENO: Thank you for having me. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hey, this is really great and this is the first time we’ve ever had Phoenix represented on Green is Good, but before we get talking about all the great things in sustainability and waste aversion you’re doing in Phoenix, share a little bit about the Felipe Moreno story with our listeners. Talk a little bit about your journey leading up to you becoming Deputy Director. FELIPE MORENO: Sure. I started with the City of Phoenix over 14 years ago. I actually came in in the Human Services Department, so my background is actually more on the social work side working with youth and so I did that for about five to six years and then there was a great opportunity. Our City Manager at the time has a great intern program that allows you to really get exposure to public administration and the city government as a whole and so I was fortunate enough to apply and be accepted into that program and that really gave me a broad view of city management and it really gave me a passion for Phoenix and where I want to be and kind of grow my career and so out of that, I was able to do rotations in several departments and really learn from our top leaders. After that year was over, I was fortunate enough to land a position with the Public Works Department where I’ve been for the last seven years and progressively working in different areas within solid waste and in the last four months into my new assignment as Deputy Public Works Director over our field services, which is all of our solid waste collection and recycling collection, and aversion programs and so I’m very excited, very passionate about what we’re doing here, and I couldn’t ask for a better city and department to work in. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s awesome, and we’re so grateful to have you on the show today and talking about all the good things you’re doing in Phoenix. For our listeners who want to follow along with all of Felipe and his colleagues’ great work in Phoenix, you can follow along on their website, www.phoenix.gov/publicworks. I’m on the website now. It is really a fun and practical website and I think it’s really well done and I think our listeners out there would find it to be very informational and things of that such. Let’s get right into it, Felipe. Let’s talk a little bit about the mayor and the city council and what they did last year in terms of setting an aggressive waste aversion goal. Talk a little bit about what the new standard is in Phoenix and what direction you’re headed in with regards to sustainability and waste diversion. FELIPE MORENO: Absolutely. We’re very fortunate to have a mayor, Greg Stanton, who is forward thinking in the way of sustainability and actually, in his 2013 State of the City address, he challenged the city, and when I say ‘the city’, it’s not just us as the organization but the city of Phoenix, to increase our waste diversion rate to 40% by the year 2020 and so that’s very aggressive because currently. Phoenix is at a 16% diversion rate, well below the national average. The national average is about 34%, and so we’re looking to exceed that average and get to a 40% diversion by 2020 and we’re really excited about that. That’s gonna be a lot of work ahead of us but we’re up for the challenge and that’s really looking at just rethinking how the city consumers and residents rethink their behaviors all the way to how we as a city in our solid waste operation have to overhaul ourselves to think differently and do things differently so we’re fortunate to have leadership from a strong mayor and our city manager and then all the way to our department. We’re all on the same page and up for the challenge. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, what is that initiative called again? FELIPE MORENO: The initiative is Reimagine Phoenix and so that’s kind of our umbrella initiative that we’ve launched to support Mayor Greg Stanton’s initiative or diversion goal and so Reimagine Phoenix is really looking at transforming trash into resources. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Nice. I like that, and so talk a little bit about Phoenix as it stands today. What is your current diversion goal as the sixth largest city and how did you choose 40%? Where are the metrics here? Where are you today? I know you mentioned it a little while ago, but how are you gonna get from A to Z and why is 40%, which is, of course, higher than other U.S. metropolitan cities, why was that goal the chosen goal? FELIPE MORENO: Well you know, like I mentioned, we’re at 16% and the national average being 34. It’s a little misleading with the national average because the one advantage some metropolitan cities have that we don’t is there’s a lot of mandates. Some cities are mandated to recycle. It’s the law. Or divert certain materials, where Phoenix, we’re 100% voluntary in our program and even with that, we enjoy a high participation rate but we can do a lot better, as you can see with our low diversion rate and so we want to go to 40% because we really want to challenge ourselves to not just be average; we want to be leaders in the industry. We’re very focused on becoming a leader for metropolitan cities in diversion. We want to be the go-to city where people come and say, ‘What are you doing? How are you getting there,’ and so we wanted to challenge ourselves not to just get to the national average, but exceed it and so 40% was a good number that we felt was achievable but aggressive and the way we’re gonna get there is really through three focus areas, one being reevaluating and rethinking our solid waste operations; putting new programs in place that help residents divert more waste, looking at how we operate within the city to divert our own waste better, and then the other piece is community outreach and communication, bringing more awareness to the public on diversion and the importance of diversion and that triple bottom line that you hear about sometimes of the economy side, the environmental side, and then just cost so we’re looking at really bringing awareness, doing the outreach, just engaging the public to be true partners with us in this process, and then the third area that we’re really focusing on is community partnerships and business partners, reaching out to the private haulers who are in the business that we are in as well as our corporate business partners out there in other municipalities looking at it from a regional approach too. We can’t do this alone. We realize that in the Public Works Department, if we were to overhaul our operation, it will only get us part of the way there. We really need to bring in Phoenix partners, businesses, school districts, everybody, to get on board, to see how they can change their business, their operation, how they can contribute to the diversion goal and really get creative and create some synergy amongst all of us to reach that 40%. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so interesting. When you talk about communication, Felipe, obviously we live in a Facebook and Twitter world. What is your communication strategy? I assume it’s not as black and white as the old Mad Men days where you could buy some billboards or buy some radio or television time. How are you leveraging the new media also, social media platforms, and what does your communication strategy look like in terms of getting out new recycling opportunities and waste and diversion opportunities that you’re creating in the city of Phoenix? FELIPE MORENO: Yeah, that’s a great question. We have to stay current and I think the big areas that we’re looking to focus on with our community outreach is kind of a four-prong approach. The city is fortunate enough to own a lot of our own media so we have our website. We have newsletters. We have inserts that go out with the city municipal services bill, water and solid waste bills. We have list serves and then we do have social media component. We have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so we’re hot and heavy on making sure we’re maximizing our city owned media and staying up to time with the social media but then we’re also utilizing paid media so we still utilize the radio spots, the TV spots, billboards out there, things that are gonna bring awareness, Spanish media is very important to us and then not just looking at the multimedia approach but really making sure we emphasize our grassroots approach so we have over 50 environmental specialists that their role is kind of code compliance and enforcement out there and engagement with the community on solid waste, making sure they’re following the rules, making sure they’re answering their questions and so we’re really gonna encourage their existing staff to be out there interacting with the public every day and promoting this program, promoting this initiative, kind of educating the public on how we can achieve that goal of 40% by the year 2020 and then also just community events. Our mayor, Greg Stanton, has a lot of events out in the community. Our city council members have events in their districts. We tag on to those things whenever possible to have a presence there to reinforce the message. Our elected officials are very good at promoting that for us so making sure they’re educated on what we’re doing so that they can be our torchbearers out there with our constituents and so it’s just really a combination of that grassroots approach to make sure we’re just out there face to face with the public combine with our city owned and paid media, that’s also important to us. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners out there who have just joined us, we’ve got Felipe Moreno on with us. He’s the Deputy Director of the Phoenix Public Works Program and to learn more about what Felipe and his colleagues are doing in Phoenix, go to www.phoenix.gov/publicworks. I’m on your great website now and I’m on the recycling and diversion program area and you have so many things you guys are recycling there from Christmas trees to election signs, composting and green organics, household hazardous waste. You’re really making recycling and diversion a very, very landmark part of your new sustainability Reimagine Phoenix program, huh? FELIPE MORENO: Absolutely. You know, in a perfect world, I think where we want to head is to be out there collecting less garbage that we have to bury and more materials that we can repurpose and turn into resources and that’s really the focus of Reimagine Phoenix is not looking at trash and garbage as something that just goes away and needs to be buried but really looking at the multitude of possibilities of what we can do with that and turn it into resources that can be repurposed and reused and put back into the economy locally and so we would like to be less in the business of being the garbage man and more in the business of collecting things and turning them into something useful for the public. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I love it. Felipe, you mentioned a couple minutes ago that one of the key elements of Reimagine Phoenix was to get involved and get businesses more involved with the success and with your new goals of 40% diversion by 2020. Talk a little bit about how does that look even and why did you choose to build relationships with businesses and help the initiative move forward? FELIPE MORENO: Right. You know, the importance of community partnership and business partners is critical to achieving our goal. Again, we could do everything possible within public works’ power to change programs and add new programs but we can’t do it alone and so we recognize that we really need to reach out to some experts in the field in the area of sustainability. Arizona State University is a big partner of ours. They have a school of sustainability and they’re the think tank to help us strategize and figure out new emerging technology, how we can stay cutting edge in the way of waste diversion, how we can take the theory and put it into practical application. They’re working with us closely to help us develop the programs that we’re trying to implement to kind of research and develop new emerging technology to help us get there and then we have other universities that just looking at how they do things on their own campuses, Grand Canyon University, for instance, is another one of our partners and they’re partnering in a different way in that they’re really looking at just how they become more sustainable as a campus, anywhere from how they purchase materials to how they use materials and how they repurpose things and so those are lots of students on those campuses. That’s a big impact in the city of Phoenix and then we also have our school districts that are looking to work with us to figure out how we can implement diversion programs just within all the schools. Paradise Valley School Districts is one of our new partners and working with them, we’re gonna reach over 30,000 students just on how to be better educated and practice good diversion practices within their schools and even at home and so we also have some major sports teams, the Diamondbacks, so we’re looking at really trying to bring awareness but also to help other people who have a large impacts and employ large amounts of people to figure out how they can do good on diverting their material and helping us achieve that goal together. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, Felipe, talk a little bit about your current solid waste services that you offer today, your baseline and what you’re planning on rolling out, your new solid waste services that you’re planning on rolling out in July 2014 and how did they look differently and why did you choose new services and a new program to roll out this year? FELIPE MORENO: Absolutely. Currently, our baseline solid waste services are not unlike most cities in the country. We offer a regular garbage and recycling service. We’re fully automated, so it’s an automated truck that picks it up with the grippers and dumps it and puts it back down at the curb. It’s collected weekly and then we also offer quarterly bulk trash, which is uncontained, kind of your bulky items, your green waste, your couches, things like that. Quarterly residents can put that out to the curb and we have crews that come out with a tractor and a truck to pick that up and so we’re at a point now where that’s all well and good but that’s not gonna get us to a place of 40% and so we are rolling out two exciting new programs in July. One is a reduce and recycle program. We call it State R and R and that really allows residents the option to downsize their garbage container to a medium size container, which allows them to throw away less and recycle more and they’ll realize a $3 discount per month on their bill, that they were able to do that and so we’re excited about that. Sign up for that rolls out July 7, and that’ll just be collected just like the normal service. It’s just a smaller garbage container. The other program is our curbside green organics collection so we’re adding a third container for those who would like it and that really allows residents to throw away green waste so yard clippings, things around the house that are your landscaping material. Rather than put it out for bulk trash to be buried, they can put that in that tan container and out trucks will go by weekly and collect that as well and then all that gets diverted away from the landfill and it’s mulched and grinded and turned into compost. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow, and you expect these two programs to start making the dent in getting you from the 16 to the 40 and starting that rise immediately? FELIPE MORENO: Absolutely. It’s just the beginning. These are two programs we’re kicking off and again, we’re gonna continue to research and develop new emerging technologies and figure out ways to enhance that but we’re starting here at the very base service for our residents that they can take immediate advantage of and we can see some immediate diversion. A lot of what we bury though is organic. It’s green waste and it’s sad because that’s stuff that can be reused and turned into something valuable by way of compost. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Felipe, many cities now, we hear about food waste and composting becoming the new thing and something that’s getting done more and more across cities across America. Is that something Phoenix is focusing on and is food composting becoming more of your DNA and culture as well? FELIPE MORENO: We want to get there. At this point, with our green organics program, it’s pretty basic and so there are many types of food waste. ASU, as I mentioned, they’re working with us to help develop a good food waste program down the road and we’re gonna get there. That is definitely a part of our plan and that’s a big part of what we throw away as well so if we can get that food waste out of the landfill as well as the green organics, we’ll definitely be on the right track towards that 40% diversion goal. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We have a couple minutes left, Felipe, and I want you to touch on the Reimagine Phoenix initiative and some other opportunities in sustainability. What other things are you doing with regards to energy management and other things with regards to sustainability in the Reimagine Phoenix initiative? FELIPE MORENO: Well, under Reimagine Phoenix, we’re focused on a lot of our solid waste programs that but we do have in the public works department, we don’t just do solid waste. There’s another side, which is fleet and facilities management and they’re very aggressive with looking at making the city’s fleet alternative fuel, CNG, things like that, so getting off of the dependence on just regular gasoline and then also, we have some greenhouse gas emission goals as well as our buildings. We’re looking to make buildings LEED certified whenever possible, be very energy efficient, and solar, we’re doing solar projects around the city so solid waste is an important piece but it’s one piece of a bigger puzzle in the city and so everybody’s really forward thinking with the mayor, again being very focused on sustainability so he’s really challenged all our city departments and operations to think outside the box and do what we can to reach that goal. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well Felipe, with all the great things you’ve laid out today, I’m sure you’re gonna hit your goal of 40% diversion by 2020. I applaud all the great work you’re doing in the city of Phoenix with your colleagues and for our listeners out there that want to learn more about what Felipe and his colleagues are doing in the Phoenix Public Works Department, please go to www.phoenix.gov/publicworks. Thank you, Felipe, for being an innovative sustainability leader. You are truly living proof that green is good. FELIPE MORENO: Thank you.