Texas Campaign for the Environment: News
Dallas Morning News, August 21, 2012 By Rudolph Bush
Dallas’ long-range plan for trash is giving some people heartburn
Dallas City Hall has a plan for your garbage, but it isn’t sitting well with everyone.
For the first time, the city will seek council approval Wednesday of a solid-waste master plan that would set controversial goals for everything from banning plastic shopping bags to burning trash to produce energy.
The plan also would require that recycling be made available for everyone in the city, including businesses and apartments that now don’t have access to regular recycling pickup.
The plan has quietly been in the works for more than a year as part of City Hall’s long-touted, little-realized “zero waste” goal. Council members were briefed last week on the plan, titled “Local Solid Waste Management Plan 2011-2060.”.
Both environmental and industry groups were quick to raise concerns about elements of it — industry because of the new mandates and environmental groups because the goals are too weak and in some cases a decade or more off.
Zac Trahan, regional program director for the Texas Campaign for the Environment, said he is troubled by a key goal of the plan to convert waste to energy at McCommas Bluff.
The plan also isn’t aggressive enough about promoting true recycling efforts, he said.
“While this recycling plan sets strong long-term goals, in the short term it makes excuses for bad practices and uses big talk to cover up for little action,” Trahan said in a statement. “We’re urging city officials to delay adopting this plan as it is currently proposed, and instead support improvements that will make Dallas a recycling leader, not a laggard.”
Trahan said the waste-to-energy idea is just code language for trash incineration, something that deeply concerns his organization because of added emissions. Whether the city refers to the conversion process as waste gasification or something else, it’s just burning trash by another name, he said.
Meanwhile, cities such as San Antonio, Austin and San Marcos already require that recycling be offered at apartment complexes, he noted. City Hall’s plan “kicks the can down the road” decades on that goal, he said.
In Dallas, private waste haulers collect trash from businesses and apartments. Single-family homes have their waste and recyclables collected by the city. Private haulers aren’t required to offer recycling services.
Kathy Carlton, director of government affairs for the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas, said her organization is still reviewing the proposed requirement that waste haulers provide recycling for apartments.
The problem, she said, will come if recycling must be provided but apartment residents don’t actually recycle. Apartment owners will be stuck with a bigger waste hauling bill with little benefit to show for it.
“It’s very profitable to recycle air,” she said, suggesting recycle bins might be empty so often that collections would be sparse.
Carlton was listed by the city as a member of the advisory committee that helped put together the proposed master plan. But she wasn’t on that committee and wasn’t even made aware its proposals would be passed on to council members, she said.
As for the proposal to ban plastic shopping bags and polystyrene foam, environmentalists like Trahan appreciate that. But, as the plan is written, those goals are years, a decade or more, from being realized, he said.
The briefing to the council is unclear about the timeline. At one point, it suggests a ban could be effective within five years. But in the plan itself, as well as in an appendix in the briefing, the city suggests a ban would not be in place before 2021 and as late as 2025.
A council committee shot down a proposal to tax and ultimately ban the bags in 2008. But four years later, the bags remain a frustration for City Hall. They are a litter hassle, clogging creeks and stormwater intakes. And recycling doesn’t take many bags out of the waste stream.
Donna Dempsey, spokesman for the American Progressive Bag Alliance, said Monday that banning bags is just a bad idea.
“The biggest reason that banning bags or even taxing them is not a good solution is you are going to single out an American-made, 100 percent recyclable product that provides 4,500 jobs in Texas. And you are going to single out one product that is less than 1 percent of the litter stream. It’s also going to drive customers to less environmentally friendly and healthy products at the checkout counter,” she said.
The 1 percent figure she attributed to a Texas Department of Transportation study of highway litter. Anyone who has crossed a creek after a rain would put the plastic bag figure higher, although its sister in litter, the plastic bottle, surely rivals it in sheer numbers.
Assistant City Manager Forest Turner sought to calm some of the frustration he’s hearing from industry and environmentalists.
The plan, he said, is just a guidepost. It doesn’t authorize the city to build a gasification plant or ban plastic bags or require recycling at apartments. The council, ultimately, will set those timelines, he said.
“It doesn’t green-light anything. It is our plan, and that plan will be submitted to the [Texas Commission on Environmental Quality] for their acceptance,” he said.