San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

January 25th, 2010
City to try multi-family recycling program

012510IMLSanMarcoslabelBy SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

Nine months after implementing single-stream recycling for single-family residences, San Marcos city officials are kicking off a pilot program that could lead permanently to single-stream recycling for apartment renters.

The city council approved a pilot program last week involving a mix of small, medium and large apartment and mobile home complexes to participate in the six-month program. The apartments asked to participate in the program include Garden Oaks, Bishop Corner, Chestnut, Sundance, Mockingbird CM Allen Homes, Mariposa and The Sanctuary.

The pilot program’s price tag is $23,718, which includes costs for collection and 18-gallon bins for 597 residential units. The six-month service will be performed by the same company that now offers garbage pickup and single-stream recycling to homes — Texas Disposal Systems (TDS).

The council saved $14,400 by declining the educational website and video advertisement TDS offered to create, but asked TDS to provide written educational materials at a cost of $3,960, the need for which Councilmember Chris Jones alone questioned. The council took no formal vote on the matter, but offered direction to staff by consensus.

The city implemented a single-stream curbside recycling program for homeowners in April, which the council has deemed a success. But most residents, being multi-family residential dwellers, still have no such service.

For the purposes of recycling, at least, the city defines “multi-family” as building complexes of five units or more. “Single-stream” refers to the method of recycling service pickup — it means that all materials are placed in one container by the customer and sorted at a later date by the contractor.

“I’m fine with the pilot program,” said Councilmember John Thomaides at last week’s city council meeting. “However, I just have to ask this: We are now 11 months away from our original direction (to staff) to provide single-stream recycling at apartment complexes. That was the direction. I know there are some logistical problems, but it’s not rocket science. I mean, we were wondering, ‘Would it work with single family?’ And it did … Can we or can we not provide single-stream recycling for everybody in San Marcos? That’s all I want to know. Can we do it?”

City of San Marcos Assistant Director of Public Services Sabas Avila replied, “Those are some of the questions that we hope to answer with our pilot program.”

The city issued a request for proposals (RFP) for multi-family (apartments) and commercial single-stream recycling in 2008 but rejected the bids as being too high. The bidders, TDS and Green Guy Recycling, said upfront capital costs and an uncertain customer base were reasons why their bids came in higher than city staff expected. In January 2009, when the two bids were rejected, the council told city staff to lay the groundwork for mandatory, multi-family single-stream services.

City officials hope the pilot program will answer such questions as how many containers would be required per apartment complex, whether to utilize small bins, how to address on-site space limitations, who has responsibility for moving containers curbside, whether materials should be sorted at the curb or be single-streamed, what level of contamination can be expected, the degree of potential conflicts of contaminated material transfer to competing solid waste providers, and how much in garbage service reductions may result.

The city spent an estimated $103,395 for recycling pickup services in Fiscal Year 2009 and budgeted $141,765 for FY 2010. The city spent an estimated $1,275,770 for waste collection services — which includes recycling — in FY 2009, and budgeted $1,569,896 for FY 2010.

Residents of single-family homes paid a slightly higher fee to the city for garbage collection under the new program. The monthly rate increased from $15.98 to $17.89.

Jones said dumpsters for recycled materials ought to be used in the pilot program for large multi-family complexes.

“That, to me, makes more sense than having 20 recycling cans out in front of a complex,” Jones said.

City staff said the six-month pilot program will not involve dumpsters because TDS does not have the proper trucks to handle them. A TDS representative said last week that the use of dumpsters is possible, but not likely to be cost-effective for the city, as the company would have to acquire an additional truck and pass along the attendant cost.

City staff examined the recycling habits of what they termed “model green cities” such as Atlanta, Austin, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle. Staff said all the aforementioned cities except Atlanta require recycling services to be offered at homes, apartments, and commercial buildings.

Austin limited its mandatory recycling for multi-family and commercial complexes to those of more than 100 units. Atlanta, Austin and San Francisco require single-stream recycling at houses only. Portland requires single-stream recycling at apartments only, and Seattle requires single-stream at apartments and houses.

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14 thoughts on “City to try multi-family recycling program

  1. Pingback: City to try multi-family recycling program – San Marcos Local News | Austin Apartments

  2. Perhaps lost in some of the “feel good” of this story is the declaration that the City’s budget for recycling collection and overall waste collection is increasing 38% and 23%, respectively. Those are huge numbers for a town already under the microscope for reckless government spending. I have been told that the single stream recycling system in Austin, while publicly lauded, was a disaster from a financial standpoint – I don’t think we want that here in San Marcos.

  3. Council was not forthcoming throughout the transition from two day garbage pick-up to one day and single stream. We lost our second day because rates were going to increase if we did not cut back to one day of garbage. Then single stream was brought in and rates increased anyway. Council cared less about the rates than getting to single stream at all costs. I miss the second garbage day, and I think the entire move was all about Council feeling good and not about doing anything real.

    Council deemed single stream a success, but pardon me if I don’t take their word for it. How much less garbage has been picked up and at what cost to the citizens? How much more recycling has been picked up and where did it go and what virgin material did it save? I understand the market for cardboard has dried up such that it is generally thrown away at the docks. If the recycled material doesn’t actually save virgin material in production, then this whole switch is merely a way to larger profits for the garbage vendor and less service for the citizens. Before we expand this program and spend more money, I would like more information on the true impact of what has already been done.

  4. Single stream recycling is a proven approach that works. Many communities across the USA have already implemented single stream recycling during the past 5-10 years, providing greater citizen participation and improved community recycling results. Single stream recycling increases the rate of citizen participation in recycling, increases the amount of materials recycled, and decreases the amount of waste landfilled. Single stream recycling also decreases the volume of waste stored in garbage carts. In the context of our now once-a-week garbage collection, this gives people the equivalent of an additional cart.

    TDS is not making a windfall here, by any stretch of the imagination. For the $1.77 per month per (6,900) household (approximately $150K per year total contract revenue), TDS was willing to invest up-front something to the tune of probably around $500,000 to get everything in place (the new 96-gallon recycling carts, et al) to provide single stream recycling to our community. Based on the open book documents TDS shared with the City Council in the Fall 2008 timeframe, we (the 6,900 households participating in residential single stream recycling) got an awesome deal. The only reason it can make sense for TDS is that they are committed to making single stream recycling in San Marcos a resounding success for the community, and then TDS can leverage that experience into signing up other communities (although I would think they will need to charge more).

    On the other hand, once could take the position that the $1.77 per month the 6,900 households each were not previously spending, should not be spent, and that we should simply put more trash in the landfills rather than recycling more content and diverting waste stream away from landfills, but I and many others believe this is the right thing to do. Sure, I am spending $1.77 more per month than I was, but what I am getting for the $1.77 that I am spending, is fantastic, and well worth it to me.

    Only the people receiving the (residential) single stream recycling service are paying for it, and it is not being subsidized by any other community entities (except I bet that TDS is spending more than $1.77 per month per household to perform the service, when they add up all their expenses). Having said all of that, I’m sure we can get a specific results scorecard from TDS or the City regarding how well (the residential phase of) single stream recycling is indeed working for San Marcos. As a people concerned for future generations, we can’t just keep putting more waste into landfills.

  5. Steve, I understand the general selling points and appreciate your passion, but I want to know the specifics of how the first year or so has gone — weights, measures, costs, destination of materials, etc. From the article, it is $22.92 per year in absolute increased costs plus the cost of a lost garbage day. If you take half of the prior collection rate, since half of the services were lost, that is a cost of an additional $95.88 per year for a total increase of $118.80 per year. You may feel like you get this much value out of the service, but I have to pay it too as I cannot opt out and go back to two days of garbage at the same price. I want to know more before I decide whether it is worth it to me. It is not enough to clear our throat loudly, pronounce it to be good, and talk about future generations.

  6. Complete economic analysis would have to include the cost of additional landfill space which would be required w/o recycling.

    Won’t even go into the methane gas question.

  7. Here’s to more recycling that we do on behalf of the next generation(s)–and with recycling (and composting) the once a week pick-up of garbage is sufficient. Thanks to council for their efforts to move this project along.

  8. During the first 3 months of residential single-stream recycling (launched in April of 2009), we collected more than 100 tons of recycling per month, which is twice the amount recycled before. This means nearly 150 additional tons of recycled material (in just the first 3 months!) were diverted from landfill. (And, yes, I’m checking into getting more current statistics, too.)

    As first reported back in April of 2008, if we continued twice a week service, the rates (for garbage collection) would have increased by more than 50%. A 98.2% increase in diesel fuel prices, a 69% increase in the cost of new replacement trucks over five years, as well as city growth, contributed to the change in (garbage collection) service.

    Now that residents can recycle so many more things (thanks to single stream), I hear lots of people say they’re filling up their big recycling container every time, and that their trash container doesn’t get nearly as full as before (and that they are doing fine with the once per week schedule on trash pickup, as long as they do put the recyclables into the recycling container rather than the trash container).

  9. Here are the recycling statistics (in tons collected, residential, San Marcos) for all of 2009:

    January 54.02
    February 47.71
    March 53.24
    April 99.68
    May 100.39
    June 102.36
    July 101.4
    August 100.71
    September 99.57
    October 105.36
    November 108.77
    December 105.48

    Way to go, San Marcos!

  10. We are so amazed to find out how much of our trash is recyclable, here and at my office too, now that single stream is in place. We are hard pressed to find enough trash to fill our trashcan in the kitchen, while our recycling cans in our home fill up every day or two, and they are larger than the trashcan! What a sea change this is. Perhaps we need to help people learn what is recyclable, if they are thinking that this is not a good deal for them. It is quite astonishing the percentage of what was once trash, that we are now able to recycle. I’m even picking up recyclable materials at meetings I attend, to bring home since it is so easy to recycle now.

  11. As a new resident in San Marcos from Austin I am very excited to see this moving to the next stage. I hope to see students utlilizing recycling for their aluminum cans (among other things). Recycling had been something that students and the younger generation has wanted for awhile and utilizes with ease. I know that the pilot program will be a success and I look forward to utilizing this great service.

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