Texas Campaign for the Environment presented personalized letters from Dallas residents to City Council members during a November 14th committee update on the City’s long-term “Zero Waste” plan to expand recycling. Two City Council members, Philip Kingston and Sandy Greyson, spoke in favor of fast-tracking a universal recycling ordinance if apartments and businesses don’t start recycling programs soon.
It’s been nearly four years since the City of Dallas passed its Zero Waste Plan, following only the City of Austin with the first plan of its kind in the state. While substantial progress has been made in Austin—with a city-wide recycling rate of 42% and the recent adoption of a third bin for residential food composting—Dallas has struggled to implement meaningful programs and policies to break from the rut of a 20% recycling rate.
The City of Dallas Sanitation Department presented its second status update on the City’s resource diversion efforts since the adoption of the Zero Waste Plan in 2013. To put it bluntly, no one on City Council was impressed by the data showing the City had not increased its recycling rate at all in the past four years. But before you start drafting an angry letter to the Sanitation Department, you have to understand that, in a way, their hands have been tied.
The City’s Zero Waste Plan, as approved by City Council, allowed for a 6-year “grace period” to track and measure recycling data, survey commercial enterprises about their waste and recycling programs, and ultimately seek voluntary measures and incentives to encourage businesses to provide recycling for tenants and residents. The Sanitation Department has worked tirelessly to craft creative programs to incentivize recycling participation, but without any requirements for apartments and businesses to recycle, there is only so much that city officials can do to keep Dallas on the path to becoming a Zero Waste City.
As a result, the Sanitation Department presented the Quality of Life and Environment Committee with short term strategies to increase our recycling rate without uttering the word “recycling ordinance.” Many of the Department’s recommendations—like separating residential collection of bulk and brush materials so organic materials can be composted—were sensible and important. But even in their own best case, these initiatives would fall just short of the 2020 goal of 40% city-wide recycling.
The most recent meeting kicked off with representatives from Texas Campaign for the Environment delivering hand-written and personalized letters to the Councilmembers from their constituents. The letters were collected through door-to-door canvassing in apartment buildings and homes throughout the city and urged officials to implement recycling in workplaces and multi-family buildings as soon as possible. Several City Council members commented on the importance of public input such as this.
Councilmember Tiffinni Young summed it up: “Thank you for these letters. It great when we have our citizens who are advocating on different issues.”
Councilmember Philip Kingston expressed his frustration with the lack of progress, saying “I would say that it’s pretty clear from the data you presented that we’re going to be woefully short [of our recycling goal] by 2019. And I know I’m not the only one who has said repeatedly to the Apartment Association, ‘tick tock, it’s coming…’ and the idea that we’re going to do this phase-in after 2019 and maybe get it done by, I don’t know, 2021 or something, is not consistent with what this council adopted in 2013.” Kingston went on to advocate for fast-tracking a recycling ordinance that would result in universal recycling in commercial buildings and apartments. Committee Chair Sandy Greyson followed by saying, “I do remember when we implemented this in 2013, and some folks felt that giving a 6-year grace period for voluntary efforts was too long. So, I tend to sort of agree with Mr. Kingston that … we’ll implement a [universal recycling ordinance] in 2019 if we continue to see the slow, slow progress that’s being made.”
While the City’s residential recycling program has made up the lion’s share of recycling activity in Dallas, this program covers less than half of Dallas residents. Most residents rely on their apartment management to provide a privately contracted service.
Greyson went on to say, if we’re going to be asking residential folks to make major changes [to bulk and brush pick-up] to help us get there, then I don’t think it is unfair to ask the commercial sectors to make … changes so they can help get us there also.”
No committee members spoke in opposition to fast-tracking a recycling ordinance, which remains a good signal for recycling advocates who will continue to persuade other council members to support the policy.
“I forgot to thank Texas Campaign for the Environment for the letters. Having written one … to the Texas Legislature I think these are valuable. If you have a constituent who takes time to do this, then you have some indication of the seriousness with which people take these issues” Philip Kingston said.
Texas Campaign for the Environment and its allies will continue to put pressure on councilmembers to support a universal recycling ordinance (URO) through letter-writing and advocacy campaigns.
TCE Dallas Address:
3303 Lee Parkway Suite #402
Dallas, TX 75219