Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My response to San Antonio: Recycling

Here's my response to the letter from the Director, San Antonio Solid Waste Management.

Mr. McCary,

Thank you for the prompt reply regarding my concerns over the City’s recycling program.  From your letter, it sounds as if the City has done quite well with the recycling program.  And while you did note the program’s revenue stream of nearly $3 million dollars, you forgot to mention the program’s cost.  Without this all-important figure, fairly judging the program is impossible.

Can you please provide me the last three years of financial data for San Antonio’s recycling program? Copies of the balance sheet and income statement would suffice.

Costs of Recycling

In your letter, you proudly point out that the city has generated $3 million in revenue from recycling operations.  And, as I point out above, this is only half the story.  If, for example, the costs of the program were $4 million dollars, the return on investment is negative and the loses are surely borne by ratepayers.  Expanding a money-losing enterprise at the expense of taxpayers for the sake of achieving lofty recycling goals seems hardly worthwhile and a poor use of scarce funds, particularly if the planned expansion will only increase those losses.

Another cost passed on to ratepayers, and one often overlooked by city officials, is the cost of segregating trash from recyclables.  Under traditional garbage collection, all material is placed into one container, and the time required of the homeowner is minimal.  Recycling upends the division of labor, forcing the homeowner to cull through his trash in search of recyclables.  Often, those recyclables require some form of preparation (rinsing the dirty bottle, for example) before placement into a separate container.  City officials have essentially externalized the cost of labor.  And as more recycling is introduced (you mention organics as the next phase) the more labor will be required of the homeowner.

Another obvious cost is the capital investment in rolling stock, wages and benefits for drivers and machine operators, additional administrative costs, and the additional pollution emitted by all this machinery.  For instead of one truck collecting my trash once per week, there are now two trucks.

Lastly, I’m somewhat concerned by your goal of “a zero waste society”, and I presume that to mean abandoning landfills.  When did dumping our trash into landfills become undesirable?  Modern landfills, equipped with sanitary liners and soil-monitoring devices are one of the most environmentally sensitive and economically efficient manner of disposing of our trash.  Landfills are highly regulated, emit combustible gasses that can be captured for electric generation, and can be converted into golf courses and other recreational uses after they are closed.  Recycling, while touted as a cost efficient and green alternative to traditional waste disposal, often isn’t.

I look forward to your reply.


Brad D.

No comments:

Post a Comment