Dallas council approves controversial trash plan, calls for more public input

Dallas Morning News
Rudolph Bush

A master plan for garbage that some critics wanted to see tossed in the trash got unanimous approval from the Dallas City Council on Wednesday, but not before it was changed to satisfy concerns about a lack of public input. The plan had been criticized by industry and environmental interests for a variety of perceived problems.

But council member Linda Koop drained much of the controversy from the vote when she amended the plan to drop proposed timelines for all of its initiatives. Instead, she proposed that the city immediately begin work on a two-year timeline that would include initiatives that could be accomplished by 2015. And she insisted that, before the council adopts any of the initiatives, there be plenty of opportunity for input from stakeholders. Koop acknowledged the city failed to have enough public discussion around the plan.

“I don’t think we did really an adequate job about communicating the plan,” she said.

The complex 217-page plan was first briefed to a council committee last week and was placed on the council’s consent agenda for a vote. Items on the consent agenda are usually passed without discussion. But concern over the plan quickly spread.

Environmental groups appreciated its broad goal to have Dallas become a “zero waste” city by 2040. But the devil was in the details, critics said. The plan set timelines for increased recycling and other initiatives so far in the future as to make them meaningless, they argued.

Several groups also thought the plan’s call for “waste-to-energy” conversion was nothing more than a euphemism for burning trash — something that is widely opposed because of concerns about air pollution.

Representatives of the plastic bag industry, meanwhile, expressed concern about the plan’s call for banning that product in the future. The plan also targets polystyrene foam for elimination.

Some local apartment owners worried about a proposed requirement that recycling bins be available at every apartment and business in the city.

Criticism around the plan swelled in part because so little was known about it. Several people whom City Hall listed as serving on an advisory council that supposedly had input on the plan reported that either they never served on the committee or that the committee was nothing of substance. A number of council members said the city must get better involvement as it moves forward on implementing parts of the plan.

“We are chastised. We have learned our lesson. There was not enough public input on this before it came to council,” council member Sandy Greyson said.

Council member Scott Griggs said the plan should have been briefed to the full council before it was called to a vote. But the council was satisfied with Koop’s decision to eliminate all timelines from the plan and bring back stakeholders to discuss what can be accomplished in the next two years.

And some of those concerned appeared satisfied too.

Kathy Carlton of the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas and Tracy Evers of the Greater Dallas Restaurant Association both approved of the idea to bring stakeholders into meetings before specific elements of the plan are implemented. Carlton was one of those listed as serving on the advisory committee but said she did not.

Robin Schneider, executive director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment, was also pleased with the vote. It offers the opportunity now for input on how Dallas will move toward a future with greater recycling and less waste produced, she said.

“This plan can’t succeed unless Dallasites in every community get involved. This is an environmental issue where everyone has a role to play,” she said.

Recycling plan needs vigorous reworking

dallaszwDallas Morning News Op-Ed
Zac Trahan, Texas Campaign for the Environment

The Dallas City Council is scheduled to vote Wednesday for the first time on a comprehensive waste and recycling plan to guide us for the next generation. The proposed Local Solid Waste Management Plan outlines an ambitious goal to reduce our waste by 80 to 90 percent by 2040, which would make Dallas a national leader on waste reduction.

While it’s exciting to see Dallas offer such a bold plan, a look at the fine print shows that it needs important changes before being adopted. As currently written, this plan would make Dallas a recycling laggard — not a leader.

On the surface, the plan looks good. It calls for Dallas to become a “zero waste” city by 2040. Obviously it is almost impossible to get waste to absolutely zero, but through reduction, reuse, recycling and composting, it is possible to reduce our discards by 90 percent or more. Reducing waste means more jobs for Texas, saving taxpayer dollars, protecting our land and water, and keeping our city beautiful.

However, a peek under the hood reveals potential problems.

One immediate concern is that the plan could open the door to trash-burning facilities. Most zero-waste plans have a no-burn, no-bury policy and dictate that any conversion of waste to energy include only disposal, not recycling; Dallas’ plan does neither. Nor does Dallas’ plan rule out incineration as a possible form of “advanced waste diversion.” Burning trash is, of course, atrocious for the environment and, over the long haul, one of the most powerful disincentives to reduction, reuse and recycling. This plan is not worth adoption until it spells out that Dallas will not support incineration in any form.

Another concern is that while the plan has big goals for 30 years from now, it requires almost no real action within the next decade. For years, we will hear politicians tell us how we cannot expect apartments to offer recycling, we cannot deal with single-use bags, we should hold off offering municipal composting or anything else beyond what we are already doing. They will point to this plan to bolster their claims, noting that it does not call for concrete action on any of these items until the ’20s. Granted, none of these steps can be taken overnight, but putting them off for another decade is the opposite of leadership. This is overly cautious at best and outright cowardice at worst.

Perhaps the low sights set by this plan have something to do with the undemocratic, unaccountable process the city used to write it. An advisory committee was put together to give its input, but it only met twice and its deliberation was minimal. There was just one public hearing, last summer. The city paid pricey consultants to write the plan and used impressive lists of stakeholders to give the appearance of public input. Ultimately, however, it was sprung on residents at the last minute with the least possible public involvement.

There is a name for this: greenwashing. It is the process of calling environmental destruction environmental protection, and praising business as usual as a great achievement for the planet. City leaders are patting themselves on the back, but this could commit us to years of stagnation. We hope Mayor Mike Rawlings and the City Council will delay adopting this plan until it can be improved.

The good news is that we could transform this plan into one of the best in the country if we take the time to listen to the public and have the courage to expect real changes. In the meantime, it is merely a testament to what might have been. Dallas deserves better.

Texas Campaign for the Environment visits El Paso

KTSM News El Paso
Bianca Cervantes

EL PASO — In El Paso, many of us already recycle cans, paper and plastic, but the Texas Campaign for the Environment says we can do even better. They’re urging people to recycle electronic waste, joining us with more on how you can do that is Renee Vaughan with Texas Campaign for the Environment.