Old things find new life as we work to keep our scrap materials and equipment out of landfills by recycling them or donating useful items to local nonprofit groups.

Tucson Electric Power’s Investment Recovery team recycles or donates a range of items, including old computers, vehicles and equipment. Scrap metal – especially copper and steel – and oil from retired transformers also are salvaged and sold to recyclers.

Besides the environmental benefits, selling and recycling these items allows TEP to recover some of our costs and generates revenue to help keep rates affordable for customers.

TEP’s scrap wood poles are the most coveted item because of their many uses.

“Used utility poles are a hot commodity,” said Taryn Zeilinger, Materials Services Coordinator, who is responsible for disposing of assets that near the end of their useful life. “We don’t have as many scrap wood poles as we used to because we’re transitioning to using steel poles.”

TEP’s local grid relies on nearly 109,000 distribution poles, including many wood poles that have stood for decades. Recently, TEP accelerated its efforts to test the condition and strength of older wood poles and replace some of them with new steel poles to improve system reliability.

On average, TEP replaces or installs about 1,200 poles a year due to storm damage, aging poles, system improvements or new service. But only one-third of the scrap poles are reusable, so TEP prioritizes allocations. Customers’ electrical needs come first, followed by donations to nonprofit groups and then internal use.

Surplus and salvage items aren’t currently sold to the general public, but TEP hopes to implement a program where customers could purchase items in the future.

TEP has been donating older poles since the late 1990s. They’ve been used as fence lines, horse corrals, landscaping, plant bed walls and trailhead guides. Reid Park Zoo also put some of our poles to good use.

“TEP has been a supportive partner of the zoo for years by donating materials and supplies, light banks and crews and volunteers to help with projects and events,” said Reid Park Zoo CEO Nancy Kluge. “The salvaged wood poles were a welcome contribution and were used for fencing around animal habitats and the zoo’s perimeter.”

Other agencies that received our poles for various uses include the Primavera Foundation, U.S. Marine Corps, the Children’s Museum, Flowing Wells Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, Picture Rocks Fire District and Hope, Inc. among others.

Before the poles can be repurposed, they’re inspected for damage and fumes to ensure the poles are safe for use in other applications.

Zeilinger, who earned a degree in sustainability, said the program is a win-win by decreasing our landfill footprint while raising revenue. “We’re always looking into new environmentally-friendly ways to reuse or recycle scrap materials to support our sustainability initiatives.”

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