Saturday, June 18, 2011

Response from Government Officials on Recycling

Below is the email I received from the director of San Antonio’s Solid Waste Department.  Notice that while Mr. McCary noted the recycling program’s revenue stream, he conveniently forgot to the program’s cost.

I’m working on a reply, and perhaps the Prof can give me some pointers.  One of the City’s goals is Zero Waste, whatever that means.  Would that not also mean zero consumption?  Of course, this isn’t what’s implied.  I guess throwing trash in a landfill is no longer in vogue. 

City officials are always hatching up schemes designed to “be green”.  Often, these so-called green initiatives are any but, and taxpayers are left holding the bag.  It’s time we hold them accountable and question every proposal they put forward.

Dear Mr. Dunnagan:

Thank you for your inquiry about the City of San Antonio ’s recycling program.

Our 10 year strategic plan “Creating a Pathway to Zero Waste” established the goal to increase our recycling rate to 60% by the year 2020.  Regarding your question, why not target 75% by the year 2020. The original discussion was to increase our recycling rate to 40% by 2020. This means a changed based on available resources. We wanted to be considerate of our rate payer fees and required resources. The plan called for creating a focus group comprised of residents appointed by City Council members and a solid waste consulting firm, R.W. Beck jointly worked to develop the goal. The overarching goal is to get to a zero waste society as quickly as possible.

The Solid Waste Management Department will continue to re-evaluate the plan every three years to determine progress and if the recycling rate goal should be increased. As you mentioned, not everything is recyclable.  But we have a variety of programs that will help us meet our ambitious goal.  Since our transition from the 18-gallon bins to the 96-gallon carts we have more than tripled our recycling rate from 5% to 21%.  We also changed our mixed bulk and brush collection program into separate cycles.  This separation will allow us to increase the brush recycling rate by another 7 points to 28%.  We are also in the development phase of the curbside organics recovery program. Our organics recovery program is scheduled to begin mid August for 30,000 customers.  This program will further improve our recycling rate.

In regards to your concerns about economic efficiency, last year our recycling program generated over three million dollars in revenue. This money helped to subsidizes our collection and allows our monthly rates to remain one of the lowest in Texas .

Thank you for your inquiry and if you should have any other questions, please feel free to contact me.



  1. So the first question I have, as you pointed out, is what is the cost of the recycling program, and who pays for it.

    Second, how are the various items recycled? What about the pollution from the recycling methods? Might it not be better for some things to be put into landfills rather than recycled?

    They say they are recycling bushes and brush. It seems to me those are highly biodegradable, so the recycling methods would most likely cause net increases in air pollution.

    Finally, what are the sources of funding for this recycling program? Can we see the income statement and balance sheets?

  2. Very good questions, especially the pollution from the recycling (the unseen).

    This whole notion of a 'zero waste society' bothers me. Since when did putting our garbage into a landfill become a no-no? Modern landfills, equipped with liners and soil monitoring systems, are the cheapest and most economically efficient way of disposing of our trash.

    I am going to ask for the financials, and if they refuse, I'll file a FOIA.