Spouting rubbish

Dallas has run out of recycling excuses

This is what I do understand: Recycling in Dallas is a joke.
The first, big hint I had of this recently was that the person in charge of recycling for the city of Dallas does not herself recycle.

LuAnn Anderson, who has been the director of streets and sanitation for 60 days now, lives in Oak Cliff, like me. The city does not offer curbside recycling anywhere south of the Trinity. Therefore, the enviromentally conscious of Oak Cliff drive around the city, our cars heaped with trash, looking for drop-off sites. Anderson, though, only recycles one item on a regular basis--her aluminum cans, which she sells to a nearby aluminum recycling plant on WestmorelaCR>nd Road. She says she gives her newspapers "to kids who knock on my door collecting newspapers." (In the nine years I've lived in Oak Cliff no kid has ever knocked on my door looking for old newspapers.) And bottles? "I don't have a location I use," she says.

"Well, what I do have I put in the trash, which goes to the landfill," she says. "I'm sorry."

So am I. For a lot of reasons. In the two hours I spent with Anderson, I could get very little detailed information out of her about recycling, period. She didn't know the name of the company that the city sells its blue-bag contents to (Rock-Tenn). She didn't know any of the details of the Laidlaw contract. She couldn't tell me, among many other things, which streets currently get curbside recycling, or how many people participate, or where the city igloos are located. She'd have to research all of that, she told me, and get back to me--which she did for the next three working days.

"Since I've been in this job, I've been focusing my efforts on the future, not on the past," she said, referring to a new, all-in-one recycling contract that is going out for bid soon.

But if you don't know where you've been, or where you are, how in the world can you know where you're going?

(To be fair, city council members and community folk say Anderson's track record in code enforcement and street repair--she's been with streets and sanitation 25 years--is terrific. Unlike most city officials, she's available to people and open to change. Clearly, recyling is simply not her forte.)

But if Anderson was foggy on recycling, Sheila Overton, the city's recycling coordinator--whose sole responsibility is to understand and promote recycling in Dallas--was downright clueless. Overton sat in on my meeting with Anderson and was also unable to answer the most basic questions about the city's recycling efforts. However, she was quite well-versed on other people's recycling programs--which, strangely enough, she kept trying to palm off as her own.

"We" are taking people to grocery stores and teaching people how to shop, she told me at one point--finally conceding, after a tortuous series of questions, that it was actually the League of Women Voters who offered this service. She also conceded that she had no idea whether anyone had actually gone on such an excursion.

"We" are teaching DISD students about the environment, she told me at another point--meaning, I ascertained after we had explored this together fully--that she hawks a national teaching curriculum created by Keep America Beautiful. (She went on for quite a while about one particular exercise in which children peel an apple and are thus "able to comprehend that the earth and all its resources are very small.")

None of which, I kept thinking to myself, helps me get my Perrier bottles to a place where they can be metamorphosed into winter coats or street paving or whatever they do with them.

But let's not be hard on the bureaucrats--after all, if they had the stuff of captains of industry, they wouldn't be working at City Hall in the first place. It's the policymakers--the politicians--who could turn this around, and that's not likely to happen any time soon around here.

"The recycling in this city has always been a low priority," says Dallas city councilman Bob Stimson. "I still have people come up to me and say, 'Why the heck are we pushing recycling? We have this big ol' landfill out there.' And I give them my 'good-for-Mother Nature' speech."

Stimson is one of the rare birds on the council who is into recycling--he, too, lives in the barren, city-service scrub that is Oak Cliff, and he drags his trash to three different recycle locations around town (he also has a backyard compost heap). And though he has been very vocal about recycling since he came on the council several years ago, the best he's been able to do is make citywide curbside recycling a three-and-a-half-year project instead of five.

Stimson is enlightened because he used to live in Oregon, wCR>here recycling is a high art form. In fact, Stimson's such a purist that he stopped drinking libations in green bottles for nine months because he didn't think he could deposit green bottles in the brown-glass igloos. (You can.)

Contrast Stimson with his fellow council members, three of whom I called at random last week to size up their recycling habits. All three, by the way, live in North Dallas and have the luxury of curbside pickup for cans, plastics, and newspapers.

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