When city staff first unveiled their vision to transform Dallas into a "zero waste" city by 2040, there was immediate pushback. No one quibbled with the goal of waste reduction, but pretty much everyone quibbled with the way the city should get there.
Environmentalists critiqued the plan for putting off progressive-sounding measures like mandatory recycling and a plastic bag ban for decades hence and for including "advanced waste diversion," which is a fancy way of saying they're going to set it on fire. Business interests were reluctant to embrace a proposed requirement that they provide recycling.
And so, the City Council's Transportation & Environment Committee punted a decision on the Local Solid Waste Management Plan while soliciting comments at a series of public meetings.
What the city learned was that there are things that everybody agrees on. All parties are on board with increased marketing and community outreach, producer responsibility legislation (i.e. making companies offer take-back programs) and curbside composting.
There remains, however, a major sticking point: mandatory recycling at apartments. This matters because half of Dallas' population lives in apartments, according to census figures, and none of them is provided a blue recycling bin. It's something any serious effort at reducing garbage will have to tackle.
The city plans on doing just that; the question is when. The original plan was for the City Council to consider an ordinance in 2021. The revised proposal moves that up two years, to 2019. Until then, the city will set goals, but meeting them will be voluntary.
In a letter to council members, Texas Campaign for the Environment's Zac Trahan called the faster timetable an improvement, but wrote "it still concerns us."
"If we start considering our policy 5 years from now, it may take a year to adopt an ordinance and several more years to fully implement it," he wrote. "That means it could still be 8-9 years before we have a city-wide policy in place for all commercial buildings. That seems too far away."
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Trahan suggests speeding things up by another three years.
Business interests, notably the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas, prefer the voluntary approach. As it stands, there's not even a measure of how much material is being recycled at apartments and commercial buildings, a data gap it has agreed to help remedy by the end of the year.
"We suspect that maybe we're a little farther along than we realize," Kathy Carlton, AAGD's director of governmental affairs told the council this morning.
Maybe a few higher-end complexes offer recycling but -- and I have this on good authority -- those that a journalist can afford do not and probably won't until they're forced to.