Garbage In, Garbage Out

Why Dallas' recycling program is a $17 million joke

Hill believes in this recycling center, and she believes in recycling. Working without pay, she has pulled about 50 tons a month from the waste stream for the past 15 years, or about 9,000 tons total. She sells the things she collects to recycling processors, and when markets are good the center can turn a small profit. Those working off court-ordered community service hours do the sorting at Hill's center.

She says the program is not a moneymaker, but the things that are voluntarily dropped off are really recycled--at no cost to the city. Even those who pay the city for Community Waste Disposal's services frequent Hill's independent center, she says.

"They know we're going to recycle it," she says. "Does anybody really trust the city of Dallas?"

Joanne Hill stands at the Dry Gulch Recycling Center, where she has spent 15 years offering voluntary recycling services without spending taxpayer money.
Mark Graham
Joanne Hill stands at the Dry Gulch Recycling Center, where she has spent 15 years offering voluntary recycling services without spending taxpayer money.
Unlike most other materials picked up at the curb, aluminum is one of the commodities that actually has a consistently strong market, recycling experts say.
Mark Graham
Unlike most other materials picked up at the curb, aluminum is one of the commodities that actually has a consistently strong market, recycling experts say.

Logomasini says private efforts like Hill's make more economic and environmental sense.

"If recycling is saving you money, that's an indicator it's probably saving you energy and other resources, and there is a lot of recycling that occurs naturally in a regular marketplace," she says. "There's a certain percentage that's always efficient, and it always occurs in the marketplace. Aluminum is always the primary example. There's always markets for aluminum."

Puckett still believes in the city's program. Any space saved at the landfill is better than none, she says. When she is told of what seem to be discrepancies in Community Waste Disposal records, she says that the explanation could be innocent errors. The trip over the scales by driver Israel Esparza back in January, she says, might just be a "double swipe" or accidental double credit by the scale computer that the company erroneously reported.

"It's a double swipe, it looks like...This happens occasionally in our business that it can happen where they swipe it and they don't think it's taken it," she says, examining copies of the scale tickets. "I could see that there could be errors in double swipes and driving on and off the scale that you could get that much errors in the scale. If I saw many of these, I would be checking a number of different things."

Reviewing the company's records, the Observerfound more than a dozen instances of suspect scale tickets in a single month.

Puckett says she doesn't know why a driver would have written in a time on the log sheet that spaced his loads out by a couple of hours, and she hasn't examined the company's records to know how many other double swipes there might be. While errors may have occurred in other areas of Community Waste Disposal's operation, and even if participation is still relatively low, it's no reason to give up on Community Waste Disposal or the recycling program, she says.

"Am I worried? No. Am I curious? A little. If in fact the numbers are off by 10 percent...I'd be curious. I'm not alarmed," she says. "I don't think that there is a fatal flaw here. I think there is improvement we can make."

Dallas Observer editorial assistant Michelle Martinez contributed to this report.

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