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Dallas City Hall moving forward with long-range plan to reduce trash

February 26, 2013

Dallas Morning News
Rudolph Bush

Dallas has long had a goal of becoming a “zero-waste” city, in which recycling and composting replace the burial of trash. After a rocky start, City Hall appears to have devised a plan to start on that path.

A City Council committee on Monday unanimously recommended a long-term master plan for waste that could require making recycling available not only for single-family homes but also for businesses and apartment complexes. It will go before the full council Wednesday.

The plan stopped short, however, of calling for a ban on products, including plastic bags and bottles, that add to waste streams. Kelly High, the city’s sanitation director, said the plan represents a compromise between environmental and business interests.

“Did everybody get exactly what they wanted? No, but there was full agreement there was substantial progress in meeting zero-waste goals,” High said.

Council member Sandy Greyson expressed concern that the city didn’t push harder on controlling plastic bags, plastic bottles and foam cups. The plan recommends that the city approach product bans through a separate ordinance. Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan said she has asked the city’s environmental office to study the proliferation of plastic bags in the city. The plan also calls for Dallas to perhaps support state action on bags and bottles.

“That’s not very proactive,” Greyson said.

The plan does make one major improvement over a prior plan — it actually included public input. A plan submitted last year made a show of reaching out to stakeholders through an “advisory committee.” But interviews with people appointed to the committee revealed that it was a shell that met just twice, with few committee members showing up either time.

Outreach has been wider and sustained since. And key stakeholders from business and environmental groups have agreed to meet quarterly.

The new plan also sets clearer timelines for major goals, the most important of which is getting apartments and businesses recycling regularly. This remains a source of controversy. Apartments and businesses have their trash collected by private companies, not by the city. Many offer no recycling at all. Doing so would be expensive and difficult, many apartment owners say.

The plan calls for the city to gradually move toward a “universal recycling ordinance,” one that would make recycling available for homes, businesses, apartments and condominiums. At this point, the city is recommending that businesses and apartments voluntarily recycle until 2019. Only then, if voluntary recycling isn’t at an acceptable level, would recycling become mandatory.

Zac Trahan of the Texas Campaign for the Environment said the voluntary period should run only through 2015. Still, he said, the current plan is better than the prior version.

Kathy Carlton of the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas said apartment owners have formed a task force to study the issue. They will collect data on recycling and form plans for voluntary recycling programs.

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