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Learning the Fundamentals

May 1, 1999

7 Min Read
Learning the Fundamentals

Kathleen M. White

Unlike the brazen cowboy image of the state, municipal recycling in Dallas - Texas' second largest city - is much more understated. Indeed, more than five years after the city's residential recycling program started, Dallas recycling officials are working quietly to increase participation, diversion levels and the types of materials collected.

Particularly, curbside recycling has experienced a slow to start in Dallas. Nevertheless, city officials have implemented several successful specialized diversion programs, although they acknowledge that more must be done to increase municipal recycling overall.

A Fledgling Program Dallas serves approximately 230,000 households with its residential curbside recycling program. Although the program officially began in 1994, it was not in all eligible city sections until 1997.

Dallas employs a blue-bag collection method where residents set out their high-density polyethylene (HDPE), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), aluminum and steel commingled in a blue bag for collection once a week. Old newspapers are collected in a separate kraft bag alongside the bagged commingled blue bags. The likelihood of breakage precludes the city from collecting glass at the curb. Instead, glass is collected in limited amounts at community igloo drop-off sites around the city.

Although blue-bagged recyclables are collected on the same day as residential solid waste, they are picked up by Dallas' Department of Sanitation Services in a separate truck, then transported to a local materials recovery facility operated by Dallas-based Trinity Waste Services for processing and marketing. Trinity Waste, which has a contract with the city through 2001, processes between 650,000 tons per month (tpm) and 700,000 tpm of blue-bagged materials, says Roy Dooley, Dallas/Fort Worth recycling manager for Trinity Waste.

The city's residential recycling program currently is averaging a diversion rate of about 10 percent, according to Rosemary Steans, city recycling coordinator. Although participation in the program has been hard to gauge, the last tally, conducted between 1997 and 1998, showed that approximately 22 percent of eligible households were recycling regularly, Steans says.

"Because we recently phased in our program, residents are catching on to it slowly," she says. "It's a volunteer program, and we hope to get more people to participate in it."

Like a number of Texas cities, Dallas has not established a mandatory recycling or waste diversion goal. The state legislature did establish a 40 percent recycling goal by 1994, which has not been met. A recently conducted survey determined a 35 percent recycling rate for Texas in 1997, including construction and demolition debris, and scrapped automobiles.

Another drawback to recycling is Dallas' relatively low tipping fees and plentiful landfill space. Although tipping fees in the region have increased steadily in the past few years, the average cost to dispose of a ton of solid waste in the Dallas metropolitan area is between $15 and $20, according to Rich Abramowitz, president of the Recycling Coalition of Texas and district recycling manager for Waste Management Inc. (WMI), Houston, which owns several landfills in the area.

Despite these inherent challenges, the city of Dallas participates in the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission's (TNRCC's) Clean Cities Program, which, among other resource conservation initiatives, has established an aggressive 50 percent recycling goal by 2002. "It's hard to say if we'll be able to meet that goal, but we're gradually building up to the possibility," Steans says.

Increasing Recycling To help increase the city's residential recycling rate, the Department of Sanitation Services is considering adding more materials to its list of recyclables currently accepted at the curb. Glass bottles and jars, old corrugated cardboard and aerosol cans, in particular, have been targeted for program inclusion. The department also plans to increase funding for city-wide recycling education programs.

City recycling officials also plan to build on the already successful yard waste diversion program by further encouraging awareness of the city's "Don't Bag It" home composting program for grass clippings, leaves and other yard debris.

"Although [Dallas' curbside] programs haven't matured yet, they've done well at diverting yard waste," says Woody Raine, coordinator of TNRCC's Clean Cities Program. "Dallas has been a pioneer in Texas in telling people they won't pick up yard trimmings."

Prior to the start of the city's blue-bag program, Dallas stopped collecting grass clippings from residents at the curb to encourage diversion. The city has not banned landfilling the material, but it has set up a composting operation at a local landfill where Dallas residents can drop off the material free of charge. In addition, the city offers seasonal, pre-arranged curbside collections of grass clippings for approximately $1.50 per bag. Other bulky yard debris items, such as branches and brush, are collected from residents once a month.

The city also is working on a household hazardous waste (HHW) collection program using mobile collection units.

According to Saadia Mai, manager of resource conservation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) Arlington, Texas, which provided the program's grant funding, Dallas also is working to establish a permanent HHW collection facility. Currently, the city has an interlocal agreement with Dallas County where residents can drop off their HHW at various collection depots.

While Dallas' residential recycling program has been slow to get off the ground, the city's businesses have taken the lead in establishing their own recycling programs. According to Abramowitz, there are approximately 25 recycling companies in Dallas that offer commercial services.

"Although businesses are not required to recycle, commercial recycling is a very competitive business in Dallas," Abramowitz says. Still, he adds, "recycling in the Dallas Metroplex has a long way to go."WA

Located approximately 20 miles from Dallas, Fort Worth's population of 485,000 represents a sizable component of the sprawling Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area. Despite the city's proximity to Dallas, however, Fort Worth's residential recycling program is distinctly different from its neighbor's.

Implemented in the fall of 1992 - prior to Dallas' blue bag recycling program - the city of Fort Worth uses a container collection method in which residents set out their commingled recyclables in 18-gallon bins that are collected by either the city or the city's contracted hauler and processor, Waste Management Inc. (WMI), Houston. WMI handles 80 percent of Fort Worth's residential recyclables collection and all of its recyclables processing and marketing.

According to Lori De La Cruz, public education program coordinator for the city of Fort Worth's Solid Waste Management division, its voluntary residential recycling program has yielded a 43 percent weekly set-out rate among its 135,000 eligible households.

"Our set-out rate keeps increasing - I don't see it dropping off," says De La Cruz. "Our residents just want to recycle more."

The city's success with public participation in its recycling program may be because it accepts a wider variety of materials at the curb than Dallas does. In addition to the materials accepted in Dallas' program -polyethylene terephthalate (PET), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), aluminum, steel containers and old newspapers - Fort Worth also accepts green and brown container glass, junk mail, old corrugated cardboard, aseptic drink boxes, magazines, junk mail and office paper.

Like Dallas' program, however, Fort Worth is faced with similar challenges when it comes to increasing diversion levels, which currently are averaging 13 percent.

"We don't have mandatory recycling because of the large amount of space we have here," De La Cruz says. "We're less regulatory here in Texas, which isn't necessarily a good thing. Residents could put out one bag of garbage or 20 - it doesn't make a difference on their bill."

With few tangible incentives for the public to recycle, Fort Worth recycling officials increasingly have been relying on educational efforts to motivate residents to participate.

"We do an enormous amount of education," says De La Cruz. "We take the program into schools and neighborhood associations, and we try to reach people through the newspaper. On a regular basis, we keep trying to reach as many people as we can in as many ways as we can."

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