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“Right to Recycle” Expanding Across Texas

Katie Weatherby recycles plastic bottles in the recycling bins provided by her San Marcos apartment complex, Hillside Ranch. Photo credit: Erin Dyer
Katie Weatherby recycles plastic bottles in the recycling bins provided by her San Marcos apartment complex, Hillside Ranch. Photo credit: Erin Dyer
November 28, 2012

DALLAS, Texas - While most individual households in major Texas cities now have recycling opportunities, the so-called "right to recycle" is still out of reach for many. Some communities are responding by requiring apartment buildings, businesses and public institutions to provide recycling services. The Texas Campaign for the Environment's Dallas/Fort Worth program director, Zac Trahan, says it's these kinds of places that are producing the majority of garbage destined for landfills.

"So when you start giving everyone the right to recycle everywhere, you are tackling the biggest source of our waste."

He's currently pressing Dallas officials to follow the lead of cities such as San Antonio, San Marcos and Austin, all of which require recycling plans for multi-family dwellings. Since apartments and businesses typically have to arrange for their own waste services, owners can be resistant to new recycling requirements. That's why Trahan says it's important to give them a seat at the table as communities draw up right-to-recycle ordinances.

Austin's universal recycling plan was partially implemented in October, starting with larger apartments and commercial properties. Smaller businesses will be phased in over the next few years. Aiden Cohen, a program manager with Austin Resource Recovery, says that while owners often have to spend more when they start recycling, it can save money in the long run if it's done right.

"As we recycle more throughout the community, the price per unit or per pickup goes down. And you throw less to the landfill, so you can decrease and save costs on the landfill portion of it."

San Antonio's new ordinance currently covers multi-family dwellings, not commercial sites. But the Solid Waste Management Department's Tiffany Edmonds says the city will be looking to add businesses within the next couple of years. The eventual goal, she says, is "zero waste" - that is, nothing enters the waste stream if it doesn't have to. She says the way to get there is for the city to give everyone a chance to participate in the effort.

"That's to provide more recycling to all of our residents. So we also do more with our parks division to have recycling carts in the parks and downtown, and different opportunities to recycle throughout the city."

Research suggests that recycling can be a significant step toward fulfilling other big goals such as national energy independence and slowing the rate of climate change, partly because it takes more energy to produce things from scratch than to use recycled materials. A Tellus Institute report finds that cutting the waste stream by 75 percent would also add more than 2 million U.S. jobs by 2030.

Zac Trahan thinks ramped-up recycling, re-using things when possible, and reducing the demand for throw-away products in the first place could help lower the volume of some of today's more divisive energy debates.

"Coal, or natural gas, or nuclear. There are significant downsides to all the energy sources. These are things that we're used to arguing and debating over. But our production and consumption and waste is very connected to that."

This past August, Dallas officials set a long-term zero-waste goal for the city, a 90 percent recycling rate by 2040. Trahan says that can't happen until the city passes a right-to-recycle ordinance.

That Tellus Institute report is at

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX