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Dallas’ New Apartment Recycling Ordinance Is Off to a Slow Start

A new Dallas ordinance requires all apartment complexes in the city to offer recycling services. But not all of them do, and implementation is a slow and complicated process.EXPAND
A new Dallas ordinance requires all apartment complexes in the city to offer recycling services. But not all of them do, and implementation is a slow and complicated process.
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As of Jan. 1, most Dallas apartment buildings are required to have recycling facilities on-site, but not all of them do yet, city officials say, and implementation is a slow and complicated process.

“Most of the facilities we've talked to have been not necessarily excited, but understanding of it,” said Susan Alvarez, assistant director of Dallas' Office of Environmental Quality and Sustainability.

The City Council passed the ordinance unanimously on June 13, 2018, and scheduled it to take effect Jan. 1, 2020. The new code requires all multifamily dwelling complexes with more than eight units to have a recycling system set up that can support all residents of the building.

Apartment managers have had a year and a half to set up recycling at their apartments, and about 2,500 apartment complexes in the city do meet the requirement, Alvarez said. But that's not nearly all the complexes in the city that should comply.

The city of Dallas was unable to tell the Observer what percentage of apartment complexes in city limits subject to the ordinance have met its requirements or how many complexes in the city are bound by the new requirement. Furthermore, some apartment complexes in Dallas offer recycling through private companies. But city officials know that many complexes in the city aren't in compliance with the new law.

While there will eventually be a fine for complexes that do not comply, as long as they are making "good faith efforts" to meet the requirement, the city will work with apartment managers to avoid a fine, Nichelle Sullivan, a city of Dallas public information officer, wrote in an email.

About 58% of Dallas residents live in multifamily buildings, and the city's landfill has about 30 to 35 years of space left in it. Significantly increasing the amount of material the city recycles by making it easy for apartment residents to recycle will be good for the environment and extend the life of the landfill, Alvarez said.

At the meeting at which the City Council approved the changes to the city's recycling practices, members of the community offered support for the plan. Community member Susan Kimball pointed out the discrepancies she saw between recycling in a single-family home in Dallas and the often nonexistent options for apartment dwellers.

“While those who live in multifamily dwellings must separate their recyclables, put them in a bag, go get in their car, maybe load up the kids and the dog and drive two to three miles away from their complex, hopefully find a recycling bin in which to empty their bag of recyclables," Kimball said.

Kimball pointed out that not everyone owns a car and that even if people are interested in recycling, it's unlikely they would take DART to dispose of recycling.

Now, each complex with eight or more residents is required to provide the capacity for each unit to recycle 11 gallons per week, according to the ordinance.

The city added the recycling ordinance to the city code compliance and violation database. So now, when city employees check if multifamily residential buildings are up to code, they check on the recycling facilities as well.

Many newly built complexes have recycling already, Alvarez said, because it's something renters are interested in. When the ordinance passed, Kelly High, who was then the city's director of sanitation services, told the council that about 25% of all Dallas apartment complexes already met the ordinance's requirements.

The city of Dallas facilities are set up to recycle plastics numbered one through seven, paper, cardboard, aluminum and metal containers and glass. City facilities cannot recycle plastic bags, even the ones designed to be recycled, Alvarez said, because they snarl the processing equipment.

One of the ways the city is working to educate Dallas residents about what can be recycled and what needs to go in the trash is a program called “Take a Peek.” Although rumors circulated on Next Door — the peer-to-peer neighborhood conversation platform — that the city is going through people's trash, raising concerns about privacy, Alvarez said the title should be taken literally. Recycling collectors take a quick look in the recycling bins to make sure the materials inside are recyclable.

When bins contain too many non-recyclable items, crews place them back on the curb, still full, with a tag identifying the problem. Most often, the issue is food waste or containers with food on them, which cannot be recycled. Sometimes it's plastic bags, Alvarez said.

But she wanted to make it clear, that in spite of rumors she's heard, if a recycling bin is not contaminated with non-recyclable items, its contents will all be recycled.

Although there will eventually be penalties up to $500 for complexes that do not comply with the ordinance, the city is educating property owners and managers and working toward a goal of voluntary compliance.

Residents of apartment complexes without recycling facilities should file a complaint with the city, said Roxana Rubio, a spokeswoman for the city.

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