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Dallas recycling stuck at only half its goal for ‘zero waste’

August 15, 2016

Dallas Morning News
By Christine Schmidt
Original article here

The city of Dallas is recycling at just half the rate it set as a goal in a “Zero Waste” plan that City Hall approved three years ago. But the city’s not kicking the blue bins to the curb just yet.

The plan’s first benchmark calls for getting Dallas residents and companies — by 2020 — to send 40 percent of their waste through recycling or re-use channels instead of trucking it to the landfill. That percentage — called the diversion rate — is at 21 percent, among the lowest rates of major Texas cities, according to the Sanitation Services Department.

Kelly High, the director of the department, said they are fighting a two-front battle.

“Externally we’re dealing with people in the commercial sector and properties and hotels and apartments. Internally we’re trying to increase not only participation but tonnage for our residents,” he said, meaning the amount that each resident recycles.

Ting Shen/The Dallas Morning News

Dallas provides weekly recycling pickup along with its garbage pickup for residents in standalone homes. Apartment complexes can set up their own recycling system or drop off materials at one of 140 dumpster locations in Dallas. The Sanitation Services department also runs a bulk and brush program allowing residents to leave unwieldy materials such as old furniture, mattresses, tree limbs, and bagged leaves on the curb for free pickup.

Some of the department’s biggest successes, though, have been through social media. The department maintains Twitter and Facebook accounts and also released an app where residents can search for information about recyclable materials, set up reminders for recycling pickups, and a game to practice sorting materials correctly.

“We constantly engage with them [Dallas residents]. We’re monitoring our social media sites probably 18 hours a day,” said Murray Myers, the manager of the Zero Waste Division in the department. “To them, that provides a good customer service tool they might not find elsewhere.”

Better education could lead to better recycling results, but the Sanitation Services Department is still looking for new ways to reach out to residents who don’t even have a blue bin.

“Still about 20 percent of Dallas households don’t have a roll cart. We think it’s time to switch it up and reach out again…in a more hands-on, person-to-person approach where we’re going in the neighborhoods and just talking with them about recycling and why it’s important,” Myers said.

Corey Troiani, program director at advocacy group Texas Campaign for the Environment, wants to see the city require recycling for apartment buildings. He said that apartments, commercial buildings, and construction and demolition waste account for 83 percent of the city’s waste.

“The issue is that we’re still relying on the same voluntary encouragement for these folks to do these programs. Apartments, businesses and hotels are all aware of the fact that it is likely to become mandatory to have these programs in place,” Troiani said. “They’re pretty much holding out.”

The Texas Campaign for the Environment was one of the stakeholders that developed the Zero Waste Plan.

High acknowledged that a city ordinance requiring recycling could be in the cards. “At some point if that voluntary component doesn’t move forward, part of the considerations [the city] council will look at would be to make multifamily or commercial buildings provide the option for their tenants to recycle,” he said, adding that it could be brought to council in the next couple of years around the time that the Zero Waste Plan would be re-evaluated and reconfigured.

The department plans to continue strengthening its voluntary recycling program until then. In December it agreed to a public-private partnership with Spanish company Fomento de Construcciones y Contratas to build and operate a new recycling facility out of McCommas Bluff Landfill in southern Dallas.

“We can bring schoolkids there to see how recyclables are processed…right next to the landfill. It’s an opportunity to explain why we would want to move away from landfills and to more recycling,” High said.

However, that facility won’t be operating until January. And by that point, the city could be even further behind its goal for zero waste.


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