Dallas “Dashboard” Lowers Bar for Recycling, Barely Clears It

TCE Blog
By Corey Troiani, DFW Program Director

The Dallas 365 Dashboard presents a great opportunity for the city to relay data on its progress in many policy areas, but if the city is serious about tracking its progress on waste reduction, then it needs to measure the numbers that matter.

With regard to solid waste and recycling services, the Dallas 365 Dashboard tracks two sets of data: 1. Tons of residential recyclables collected (total weight collected from blue recycling bins in neighborhoods), and 2. Missed refuse and recycling collection per 1,000 service opportunities (rate of missed collection of your trash and recycling). Nothing on the Dallas 365 Dashboard gives us any indication of our progress on reducing our waste generation outlined in the city’s Zero Waste Plan.

While it is important to measure residential recycling rates in single-family neighborhoods, focusing on only “Blue Bin” recycling without context creates an illusion of progress. Here’s the numbers that were left out:

  • Multi-family residential trash – 529,000 tons per year
  • Commercial, and other non-residential trash – 1,251,000 tons per year
  • Single-family residential trash (gray bins) – 233,000 tons per year
  • Single-family residential bulk and brush waste – 150,000+ tons per year

Add all of that up and we’re looking at 2,163,000 tons per year that is completely ignored by the city’s Dashboard. Put another way, the city is tracking less than 3% of its overall trash and recycling weight.

Now, here’s the worst part. According to the 2013 Dallas Zero Waste Plan, we are supposed to have a citywide recycling rate of 40% by the year 2020. The annual goal on the Dashboard sets the bar—57,615 tons—far too low for blue bin recyclables. According to the city’s own statistics from 2015, the Dashboard goal represents status-quo growth in residential recycling.

I would argue that the annual residential “blue bin” recycling tonnage goal should be 75% higher, or about 100,826 tons. Feel free to check my math below:

On February 26, 2018, the Sanitation Director Kelly High told city officials that the current residential diversion rate is 20%. About three-fifths of that comes from the blue bins and the remaining two-fifths comes from brush and yard trimmings collected from the curb. The Sanitation Department is working on improvements to the Bulk & Brush collection program to allow them to separate more brush material. They expect these improvements will boost the residential recycling rate from 20% to 31%. (Great—let’s do it!) That leaves a gap of 9% that would need to be fulfilled by an increase in blue cart materials in order to meet our overall 40% recycling goal (see chart). To close that gap, we’d need a 75% increase in current tons collected in the blue carts, an annual goal of 100,826 tons.

All of that said, the Dallas 365 Dashboard would better reflect our Zero Waste Goals by comparing recycled tons with landfilled tons, and representing our goal as a recycling rate percentage. This goal should reflect our Zero Waste Plan benchmark: 40% recycling by 2020. The Dashboard should do this not only for single-family residential recycling and waste, but also for commercial, multi-family and institutional sectors, which are the source of more than 80% of our overall waste.

I fully support the stated purpose of the Dallas 365 Dashboard, but its data and objectives must reflect the actual goals of our city. Let’s fix it.


Corey Troiani
DFW Program Director

Waste pits activist meets with environmental head in D.C.

Baytown Sun
By Christopher James

Environmental activist Jacquelyn Young continues to advocate for the cleanup of the San Jacinto River Waste Pits, this time taking the fight to Washington, D.C.

In late January, Young joined community leaders from across the country in the nation’s capital to meet with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Albert Kelly, head of the Superfund Taskforce, along with other EPA officials.

Andrew Dobbs, policy director for Texas Campaign for the Environment, presented EPA officials with a stack of personal written letters at the meeting, asking to cleanup the waste pits. The hundreds of letters served as quite a statement to EPA officials.

“Administrator Pruitt came in for part of the meeting and talked about our site nonstop,” said Young. “This site, the San Jacinto River Waste Pits, is at the forefront of that man’s mind when it comes to Superfund.”

The San Jacinto Waste Pits, adjacent from the Interstate 10 bridge, were filled with paper mill wastes in the 1960s and then abandoned. Due to erosion around the pits they leaked into the river for decades. The site was eventually designated for Superfund status in 2008 and a temporary cap was installed in 2011.

Since being appointed as EPA administrator, Pruitt has continually said he’s focused on expediting the Superfund process, which has proved to be true with the waste pits. In October, Pruitt approved an ambitious cleanup solution for the pits that included excavating 212,000 cubic yards of material laced with dioxin in the dry. The EPA’s plan is to isolate the waste material with a cofferdam, pump out water and then excavate. The remedy will cost about $115 million and construction time is slated to take about two years.

“(Pruitt) said when the (potentially responsible parties) got mad at him when he came down with the Record of Decision, he said, well you can sue us but we’re not going to let it slow this cleanup down,” Young said. “So I like that. We haven’t seen much movement before and I’m cautiously hopeful.”

The group of environmental activists also used the opportunity to advocate for the reinstatement of the Superfund Polluter Pays Act, which would reinstate the Superfund tax to ensure polluters, not taxpayers, pay for the cleanup of Superfund sites. This could also potentially speed up cleanup of Superfund sites.

“Back when Superfund was created there was a fee for any company who created a product that could become pollution. They would pay these fees into the Superfund system, and it was a great, robust system,” said Young. “The EPA back then would clean up around 80 sites some years. When the fees were done away with in the 90s the number of cleanup sites tanked very quickly to less than 20. And I think it’s under 10 in recent years.”

In March, Congressman Frank Pallone reintroduced legislation to make polluters pay for Superfund cleanup, saying, “With media reports showing that the Trump Administration is considering massive cuts to the EPA, this legislation is more important than ever. President Trump and EPA Administrator Pruitt want to roll back environmental regulations that will benefit powerful corporations. It is essential that Congress step in and pass legislation that protects working families from having to pay for the misdeeds of corporate polluters.”

Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker along with Congressman Bill Pascrell and EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck joined Pallone in calling for the passage of the bill.

The EPA is currently in remedial design negotiations with potentially responsible parties, International Paper and McGinnes Maintenance Industrial Corporation.

Once design negotiations conclude, the EPA will request a good faith offer for the entire cleanup. If the EPA deems a good-faith offer isn’t made, it can either require the parties to perform the decided-upon remedy, fund the remedial action and pursue a cost recovery clam against International Paper and MIMC.

If the companies still refuse to comply with the order, EPA can pursue civil litigation to require compliance. Once either a an administrative order is in place, the companies would then have to develop work plans for construction of the remedy and for protection of the public during construction.