Combating a stagnant recycling rate: Plano City Council nixes new campaign, says more participation needed by apartment complexes
By most accounts, Plano is a fairly green city.
An annual green-living expo draws thousands of attendees and the city routinely offers volunteer training to teach residents how to be more environmentally friendly. But while the city’s recycling rate is among the best in North Texas, city staff are not resting on their laurels.
“The residential recycling rate has been flat for about five years,” said Nancy Nevil, the city’s sustainability and environmental services director “We just reached this plateau. … Yes, people are recycling their standard things, but we still think there are a lot of people out there that don’t realize how much of the material they are throwing away could be recycled. That is the message we are trying to get out there.”
The centerpiece of the campaign was a vintage-themed sign with a blonde woman saying “Do it in every room,” a message Nevil said was designed to draw attention.
“When you see the campaign and do the double take that you are probably going to do, you will then see the other message that says recycle right in Plano,” she told the city council Monday. “The goal is then to put the two together and realize you can recycle in every room of your house.”
The campaign was nixed by the members of the city council, who said it was the right message but the wrong delivery.
“I get the tongue-in-cheek part of it, but it just doesn’t sync up,” Mayor Phil Dyer said. “… I just can’t go for this one. I am really sorry.”
Councilman Lee Dunlap suggested the problem with the city’s recycling rate didn’t lie with residential recycling, but with commercial recycling — particularly at apartment complexes.
“The gap that we have got in terms of recycling in Plano is that we don’t have it in the multifamily developments,” Dunlap said. “That is where we will get the biggest bang for whatever buck we spend.”
Since apartments are classified as commercial buildings, they are not included in the residential recycling rate. However, Nevil said having more apartment complexes participate would allow the city’s overall recycling rate to increase, something that is one of her department’s goals.
City statistics show recycling programs are offered in only 43 of the city’s 118 apartment complexes, but getting apartment complexes to join in is not as simple as providing a bin for residents to use, Nevil said. While residential recycling service is provided by the city of Plano, commercial businesses must contract with a third party to provide recycling.
When it comes time to make a decision on whether to offer the service, complexes have several things to consider, said Kathy Carlton, director of government affairs for the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas.
“The larger properties [that offer recycling] have a little more discretion, it is very difficult for the smaller properties,” Carlton said. “On the smaller properties, a certain number of parking spaces are required. When you put in a recycling dumpster it takes up about two spaces, so in some cases it can be very difficult to find a spot for the dumpster since you may not be able to meet the city’s requirements.”
While logistical challenges can occur, Carlton said she considers a lack of education concerning recycling among some apartment dwellers a more pressing concern.
“The higher the educational level of the average resident, the greater the propensity for participating,” she said. “Lower-income properties are not as successful in implementing recycling programs.”
Nevil confirmed Carlton’s feelings on recycling, saying that lower-income areas of Plano recycle less than areas where residents earn a higher income.
The issue of income is not just related to how much waste is recycled, Carlton said. When a complex has to pay for a recycling service, the cost is often passed on to its residents in the form of fees or higher rent. For the residents of lower-income complexes, this additional money can be a major problem.
“Throughout the years, certain properties have experimented with recycling and maybe entered into a six-month contract to see how it works,” Carlton said. “They have had varying levels of success with it. This is a bottom line issue … it is one more expense that if it is not paying for itself, or it is more trouble than it is worth, they will go back to doing things the old way.”
With 36 percent of the apartment complexes in the city now offering recycling programs, increased education through social media and traditional advertising outlets may enable the city’s overall recycling rate to increase, Nevil said. She added that even though the city council turned down the newest campaign, she and her staff have already gone back to the drawing board and will continue to pursue ways to increase recycling in the city.
Source: Star Local News
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