Dallas Apartments and Hotels are Terrible at Recycling

reducereuserecycleflickrkevindooleyDallas Observer
Eric Nicholson

It’s really easy to recycle in Dallas if you live in a house. Just dump that unsorted mass of old newspapers, empty soda cans and milk cartons into a cavernous blue bin, drag it to the curb and let one the city’s lumbering dump trucks haul it away.

For those who live in apartments — nearly half of the city’s population — recycling is much, much harder. There’s no blue bin, no city dump truck. The average apartment complex doesn’t even offer recycling.

Apartments, along with offices, hotels and other businesses, are part of an enormous blind spot in Dallas’ recycling efforts. Together, they generate about 83 percent of the garbage that goes into area landfills. Houses account for a mere 17 percent.

That means, says Texas Campaign for the Environment’s Zac Trahan, that “even if we had 100 percent recycling in single family homes in the city of Dallas, even if people were recycling every single piece of trash,” the city would still be leaving behind a mountain of trash.

Trade groups — the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas, the Hotel Association of North Texas, and the Building Owners and Managers Association in particular — fought hard against attempts to include mandatory commercial recycling as part of the long-term garbage plan the city adopted last February. They did, however, agree to survey members to see just how many offered recycling.

The results, which have been sitting on a shelf at City Hall for the past several months, are uninspiring.

Office buildings do OK, with 84 percent offering recycling for a 21 percent “waste diversion” rate, about two-thirds that of the average Dallas home dweller. Hotels and apartments do worse, with 37 percent of apartment complexes and 61 percent of hotels offering recycling. Their waste-diversion numbers are even more paltry, 6 percent and 9 percent, respectively.

And it’s important to note that these figures very likely overstate the amount of recycling that’s going on, perhaps by a large degree. Fewer than a quarter of the buildings surveyed bothered to respond. It seems safe to assume that the three-quarters who ignored the survey are less likely to be environmental stewards.

The trade groups all say they’re working to improve recycling among members. Hotel Association executive director Cecile Newberry Fernandez says her organization is forming “hotel working group” to improve recycling efforts and will host regular sustainability programs. Teresa Foster, head of the Building Owners and Managers Association, suggested her industry’s diversion rate would likely be higher if the reams of paper shredded by law firms, medical offices, and other businesses was counted in the survey and said her group would work with smaller and mid-sized properties, who often say they’re prohibited from recycling by space constraints. Kathy Carlton, government affairs director for the Apartment Association, says educational efforts are underway, with a goal of getting 50 percent of properties to offer recycling by the end of 2015.

Carlton says her group has settled on a logo. “Do the logo, and everything else follows from there,” she says.

All three groups remain skeptical of a mandate. Carlton says she’s optimistic that Dallas’ apartment complexes can voluntarily increase recycling to the point that a mandatory ordinance would be superfluous.

“That’s the goal. That’s always the goal. It is always better when people are doing it voluntarily.”

Trahan, who’s been meeting quarterly with the city and the trade groups to discuss recycling, thinks voluntary efforts are doomed to fall short. He nods to incremental progress (e.g. getting businesses to cough up recycling data, then taking steps to improve) but says recycling mandates like ones already passed in Fort Worth, San Antonio and Austin are necessary for more significant improvement.

Curbside Recycling To Be Expanded To All Houston Homes

Houston Public Media
Florian Martin
Original story here

Every two weeks, Houstonians roll their 96-gallon recycling bins to the curb. But not all Houstonians. Currently, only about three-fourths of Houston households have the bins that are picked up by an automated garbage truck. The others have either an 18-gallon recycling tub or no recycling service at all. That’s about to change.

City Council gave the green light to purchase 95,000 additional recycling bins for about $5 million — money that should be recovered by the sale of more recyclables and by using less space in landfills. That does not include the additional garbage trucks needed.

It’s the end of a process that started in 2009. Since then, more neighborhoods were added incrementally — the last time in May of this year. It will expand the automated recycling bin program to all Houston neighborhoods.

Melanie Scruggs with the advocacy group Texas Campaign for the Environment applauded the expansion.

“Recycling is something that everyone in the city really wants to see expand, so that we can get up to the national recycling rate that other cities are already reaching,” Scruggs said.

Houston’s recycling rate lies at around 6 percent — 19 percent if you count yard waste recycling, which is mandatory. The national average is about 34 percent.

Scruggs hopes the expansion is a sign that the city is thinking about abandoning its One Bin for All proposal. That program would enable Houstonians to throw all their trash into one bin. It would then be separated at a waste management facility. The hope is to divert up to 75 percent of waste from landfills. Scruggs doesn’t think it’s a good concept.

“That kind of technology is not expected to have a good recycling rate because of the contamination of food and kitty litter and diapers with your recyclable materials, like paper and plastic and aluminum,” she said.

The city is currently interviewing companies to carry out the One Bin for All services, but at this point the program is not a sure thing.

At the meeting, Council member Michael Kubosh asked what the city will do with the green bins if One Bin for All is implemented. Harry Hayes, the director of the city’s solid waste department, responded.

“If we get to the point where the administration would ask Council to approve a contract for One Bin for All, the bins would remain in force,” Hayes said.

In other words, the green recycling bins would be used as the one bin for all trash.

For now, automated recycling collection for all added Houston households is slated to start in January.