Two years after the City began its first pilot recycling program, paper, cans and bottles in East Dallas are still little more than trash.

The few thousand citizens who refuse to dump their recyclables must cart them to various collection sites around town – igloos at public parks, United Paper Recycling in Deep Ellum, or the non-profit Dry Gulch recycling center on Harry Hines Boulevard.

It’s time the City stopped studying the issue and started recycling, residents say.

“Look at all the information pumped into children’s heads about the importance of recycling and keeps two bins outside its gates for the public. “But you have to spend your own time, energy, effort and gas to recycle. Some people can’t afford to do this. It’s frustrating, and it makes you dislike living in Dallas when the City cares so little about enabling people to do something about recycling.”

It Wasn’t Our Fault

About 13 percent of East Dallas residents signed up for the City’s latest recycling program, a subscription plan targeting 10,000 homes in each of three areas representing about 15 percent of Dallas households: East Dallas, Preston Hollow and Oak Cliff.

But the seven-week promotion ended in failure July 1, attracting only 10 percent of homeowners and creating a brief firestorm of fingerpointing among recycling advocates in and out of City government. (Contractor CMC Recycling demanded 20 percent of homeowners to proceed with the program.)

City officials say they’ve learned from their mistakes and are working with a citizens’ Recycling Advisory Team to develop a Citywide recycling program that could begin Oct. 1. They’ll discuss their progress with the City Council during a briefing on Aug. 5. (At press time, no further details about the new plan were available.)

Pricing the Service

Recycling advocates favor a volume-based recycling plan that would charge residents based on the amount of trash they leave twice a week for waste haulers.

Residents get too good a deal for their $8.56 a month, says Lorlee Bartos, who serves on the board at Dry Gulch.

“If you put out 50 bags of grass each week, you should pay for 50 bags of grass. Right now I can put out 100 bags of trash for the same price that I could putout one bag,” she says.

Margie Haley, a White Rock-area resident who works with the Coalition for the Earth’s Environment in Dallas (CEED) and is a member of the Recycling Advisory Team, says residents should be willing to pay more for a trash pickup program that includes recycling.

“Some people think recycling just happens. Those materials don’t grow wings and fly to the processing center,” she says.

“It has to be handled. And when it’s handled it costs money.”

But Assistant City Manager Levi Davis stresses cost and convenience as important factors in a successful recycling program. Officials are leaning toward a one-day-per-week recycling pickup to complement twice-a-week trash pickups, he says.

“This won’t be designed like the subscription program,” which would have charged citizens $25 for six months of recycling pickup, Davis says.

“It will operate at a more economic level.”

Too Much of a Good Thing

Other recycling efforts continue, says William McDonald, assistant director of solid waste operations in the Streets and Sanitation department.

An office-paper recycling program at City Hall collects 7,000 tons of paper per year. And despite reports to the contrary, he says, Dallas recycles the majority of materials collected at 56 igloo sites.

People want to recycle, and the City may be ready to help. That’s the good news.

But Steve Flanagan, United Paper’s general manager, says he’s taking in all the paper he wants now – 5,000 tons a month. Unless demand for recycled paper products increases, a dedicated Citywide recycling program will just glut the market.

“The paper is worth half of what it was a year ago,” Flanagan says while workers shovel newspaper onto a conveyer belt outside the plant. He has mixed feelings about the failure of subscription recycling.

“From a personal standpoint, that’s sad. From a business standpoint, it’s probably the best thing that could have happened,” he says. “What would we have done with it?

“We’re for recycling – that’s our business. But it makes you wonder. Up until last year, we had dumpsters all over the City, but because of subsidized collections and curbside programs, we’ve had to bring them back in.

“People’s hearts are in the right place, but they’re starting at the wrong end,” Flanagan says. “We need more demand. If you can’t do anything with it, it’s not recycling.”

Haley offers another option: Make less waste.

“You and I have been spoiled into thinking we can throw anything away and it’s going to be taken care of,” she says.

“It’s not going to be fun to change our habits, but it’s going to be necessary.”

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