Spouting rubbish

Dallas has run out of recycling excuses

Donna Blumer only recycles newspapers, she told me. "We don't use enough bottles and cans and so forth to put them out," she said of her and her husband. (What's enough--seven tons?)

Donna Halstead says she puts out all the blue-bag items. And does she make the extra effort to dispose of bottles, which the city won't take curbside? "I don't recycle bottles," she says. "Frankly, I don't usually buy things that are in bottles." (Possible.)

Mayor Ron Kirk does the blue-bag program, and he used to take his bottles to a church on Mockingbird Lane until they removed the igloos, he says.

As far as expanding recycling citywide, Kirk is cavalier. "We'll get there," he says. "Would I like to do it now? Yeah. But would I also like to have all the libraries open and the parks mowed and the potholes filled? You do it as quickly as you can."

That's ridiculous. We could do recycling citywide tomorrow morning if we wanted to. LuAnn Anderson says it would cost $1 million that we don't have, but that's a fiction, too. If recycling were so expensive and burdensome, the private sector wouldn't do it at all. But Waste Management of Dallas, the giant garbage-collection company, just opened a huge recycling facility in West Dallas called Recycle America. (Sheila Overton, the city's recycling maven, gushed in our interview that the facility was open to the public and happily took all recyclable items, but when I dutifully showed up there with two paltry bags of garbage, I was told they only handle big, commercial accounts right now--aCR>nd then, only cardboard and newspapers. They laughed at me, then gave me a tour anyway.)

Waste Management sends salespeople out all over America looking to buy people's trash so they can sell it for a profit. On my tour of Recycle America, shift leader Jack Moore (yes, another Jack Moore) proudly showed off a large bale of crushed aluminum cans that he said would fetch $1,500. A ton of white computer paper, he said--showing me a stack of bales courtesy of Southwest Airlines--brought in $360. And cardboard was selling for $30 to $40 a ton.

"This stuff is great, man," Moore said, fingering a sheet of used computer paper that was sticking out of a bale. "If we can just get this, it's great. We'll buy it, man. We'll buy it."

So why doesn't the city collect it and sell it? Why not take Sheila Overton's apples away from her and send her out with a real mission--the underwriting of the city's recycling expansion? Moore, of course, knows why.

"If the city of Dallas went out and did this, they would lose money because of the landfill," Moore said. "Because we pay the city to dump there. It's a politics thing."

It's an economics thing. But the city of Dallas doesn't know how to make it work. The council members I talked to last week all pointed out that recyling is awfully expensive--Halstead and Stimson stressed that there are no local companies that recycle on the premises--all recyclable items have to be shipped far away to be processed, and that's too expensive to consider doing.

Rubbish again. Here we have yet another example of the lazy, uninformed city staff shoveling out more misinformation to gullible public officials.

Waste Management officials can tell you off the tops of their heads the names of local companies that process, right here in the Dallas area, the recycled materials Waste Management sells them--specifically Rock-Tenn, which turns old newspapers into paperboard, the stuff cereal boxes are made of (they're the city newspaper-recycling contractor, for heaven's CR>sake, and have operated their own paper mill near the Dallas Zoo for 102 years), and Corrugated Services Inc. of Forney, which turns cardboard boxes into heavy-grade paper.

"We also ship a lot of materials out of state," says Jack Moore. "But we wouldn't do it if we weren't making a profit. In fact, the demand for cardboard is so great in Mexico that they pay for the shipping, which we do by train."

There are local companies that recycle engine oil, mattresses, and junk cars (into engine oil, mattresses and steel), and the country's largest glass recycler, Strategic Materials, has a plant nearby in Midlothian, which buys and crushes glass, which it then sells to--among others--Owens/Corning Fiberglas in Waxahachie, which turns it into insulation.

If the city of Dallas would pick up glass bottles curbside, Strategic Materials would do the rest--supply boxcars for the city to dump the bottles in, pick up the bottles on a regular basis, and pay the city $30 a ton, less shipping.

"There's a solution to everything," says Strategic vice-president Curtis Bucey. "You just have to decide you want to solve the problem. We'd be happy to help Dallas solve the problem--but so far, we haven't had much luck there. Compared to other cities, Dallas is way down the scale in terms of what they recycle."

Before Dallas city staff gives away any more money--instead of collecting it--I suggest someone pick up a phone and call a woman named Kate Cooper. Cooper is the chief of the recycling section of the Department of Natural Resources for the entire state of Wisconsin. Last Wednesday, she was sitting in her office, working late on Thanksgiving eve.

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