In the late 1980s, the city of Phoenix Public Works Department began putting together a five-year plan in anticipation of the needs of a growing metropolitan area. It was determined that the 27th Avenue Landfill, 27th Avenue and Lower Buckeye Road, would be filled to capacity by the mid-1990s.
All across the United States, local, county and state governments were faced with much the same problem of dwindling relatively cheap landfill space and the increasing costs of siting and operating new landfills. New federal government guidelines protecting groundwater, equipment needed to reduce the dangers associated with landfill methane gas and other necessary environmental guidelines were causing garbage collection and disposal fees to increase dramatically. To address these problems, and still be efficient and effective, the city of Phoenix began looking at various solutions to the impending garbage collection and disposal problems.
The debate on a solution was varied during the 1980s. More landfills, recycling, banning wastes from landfills or "waste to energy" plants were considered and some built in the United States. The city of Phoenix considered these options but decided upon a long-term solution that included a comprehensive solid waste management approach. This included the siting of new landfills (which will always be needed), but also an approach using the three "R’s": Reduce, Reuse, and of course, Recycle.
In 1987, the Mayor and Phoenix City Council authorized a University of Arizona study of the composition of Phoenix residential refuse. This analysis, conducted in early 1988, showed that 50 percent by weight and 63 percent by volume was recyclable.
The city of Phoenix wanted to create a recycling program that would capture as much material from the solid waste stream as possible. In addition, the city designed "Phoenix Recycles" to keep costs down by using existing trucks and personnel on the same twice-a-week collection schedule. In April 1989, a pilot recycling program of 4,000 homes began in each of the eight City Council Districts. Another 6,000 homes were added in March 1990. Sorting for residents was simple with all recyclables placed loosely and unbagged in a blue curbside container. The participation rate City wide was then approximately 90 percent.
The sorting process was conducted in a number of locations using a number of technologies. Based on the success of the program, the Public Works Department decided to move forward, and in 1991 gained approval from the Mayor and City Council for citywide implementation of Phoenix Recycles. As of 2017, the City is at a 86 percent participation rate in the recycling program.