Dallas City Council voted to draft a multi-family recycling ordinance within the next few months. Photo courtesy of Corey Troiani/Texas Campaign for the Environment.

Jan. 31, 2018

The city of Dallas has been encouraging recycling at apartment complexes and condos for many years but now it's stepping up to make it the law.

Last week, Dallas City Council voted to start crafting a multi-family recycling ordinance. The move was hailed as a major leap forward for the city by Corey Troiani, DFW Director of Texas Campaign for the Environment

Troiani said half of the Dallas population lives in multi-family housing. But only about a quarter of the city's multi-family properties have recycling services, according to TCE’s estimate. The services are offered strictly on voluntary participation.

“This is after 15 years of the city promoting multi-family recycling. We’re not getting anywhere,” said Troiani. "It’s time the city guarantees recycling for all."

Troiani said the city has failed to adopt a multi-family recycling ordinance in the past because of pushback from trade associations. 

‘They say it’s too expensive or they don’t have enough space or their property wasn’t engineered for it,” he said. 

However, the problem is perpetuated as businesses continue to build new properties without consideration for recycling.

TCE has dug deeply into DFW's landfill statistics and unearthed some grim facts about local recycling. Its recently released DFW regional recycling report states that North Texans throw 9 million tons of material into the landfill each year, while recycling only about 23 percent. That’s compared with a 34 percent national average. 

According to the report, in North Texas, two-thirds or more of discards going to the landfill are generated by the multi-family and business sectors. In Dallas and Fort Worth, commercial waste represent 83 percent and 70 percent of discards generated overall, respectively.  

While Dallas became the first city in North Texas to adopt a Zero Waste Plan in 2013, Troiani said the city has lagged behind its rival to the west to adopt programs necessary to achieve its goal to divert 85 percent of disposables from landfills by 2040. 

“Fort Worth is ahead of Dallas in regards to recycling in a couple of ways,” he said.

The city of Fort Worth had already adopted a multi-family recycling plan in 2014 when it passed a 20-year solid waste management plan last year calling for 80 percent diversion by 2045. The multi-family ordinance requires property managers and owners of apartments and condominiums with eight or more units to provide recycling services for their residents.

In addition, Fort Worth requires residents to separate brush from bulk trash. The city partners with Living Earth to turn the brush into mulch.

In Dallas, items such as tree limbs, mattresses and furniture are all picked up and thrown into a truck together, resulting in compostable material going to the landfill.

“By the time, its gets to the landfill, it’s too difficult to separate,” Troiani said.

Expanding recycling in DFW

Currently only 6 cities in DFW have recycling requirements for multi-family residences – Allen, Lewisville, Cedar Hill, Euless, Little Elm, in addition to Fort Worth. 

The TCE's franchise recycling report identifies an additional 26 cities in DFW, with populations over 25,000, that could expand their recycling ordinances immediately. These cities, which include Dallas, Arlington, Plano, Garland, Irving, Grand Prairie and Denton, have recycling ordinances up for renewal within two years or are not bound by contracts. According to TCE, if all of those cities adopted city-wide multi-family recycling in their communities, an additional 1 million DFW residents would have access to recycling. 

Troiani said a major hurdle for increasing recycling in Texas has been, it’s cheaper to throw trash in the ground than in other parts of the country – about $25 a ton, compared to $100 per ton elsewhere.

“But that doesn’t figure in the true cost of the landfill over time,” he said. “They have to be monitored for decades after the landfill accepts trash.”

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