Garbage by Numbers

Exactly how bad will Dallas' curbside trash recycling program have to perform before anyone with city government acknowledges that it just ain't right?

Pretty bad, apparently, judging by the latest numbers in a national survey.

The survey published last month by the trade publication Waste News found that only 2.2 percent of the city's residential waste was recycled. Last year's rate was 4.6 percent. In 2001, it was 19 percent.

Buzz isn't great with numbers, so give us a moment to do some crunching to put those figures in perspective. Lessee, take 19, divide by the cosign, toss in a few logarithms. OK, here goes. The decline, in percentage terms, from 19 to 2.2 percent equals a whole freakin' lot of money down the rat hole.

Forgive the technical jargon. Numbers tend to get a bit slippery when it comes to recycling. The Dallas Observer learned that last year when we tried to figure out just how much the city's recyclers were putting out on the curb ("Garbage In, Garbage Out," by Charles Siderius, May 16). The Observer reported that Community Waste Disposal, the city's privately contracted recycling hauler, was operating with so little oversight that the city had no idea how much was being collected.

We said that it appeared that drivers were taking multiple trips across scales to get multiple credit for the same loads, that the company's scales were tipped in the company's favor and that some drivers invented the number of stops they made.

City officials were not alarmed by our first story. There might have been a slip up or two, but, they said, they were going to put together a recycling task force and were going to have meetings. The city's curbside recycling program, which cost water utility customers about $2.4 million last year, rolled on.

John Barlow, manager of waste diversion for the city's sanitation department, says there are many reasons the recycling rate "appears" to have declined. For instance, Barlow says that the amount of recyclables collected dropped from 35,231 tons in 2001 to 14,033 last year because less metal and fewer tires were collected.

Regardless, performance of Dallas' recycling program is abysmal compared with other cities in the publication's survey.

Nineteen of the 25 cities that Waste News surveyed posted recycling rates in the double digits. Dallas had the lowest recycling rate and the lowest actual amount of materials collected of all but El Paso.

Still, it could be worse. Buzz figures that at the current rate of decline, in another couple of years the city will actually be dropping off bundles of old newspapers and beer bottles at every resident's door.


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