Republic Services fire

Plano firefighters battle a blaze that broke out last year at the Republic Services recycling center.

In December last year, the Republic Services recycling center burned to the ground due to a late-night fire. There were no injuries, but the fire eliminated Plano’s sole contractor for processing city recyclables. In the year after the fire, city employees were forced to adjust and adapt to a new way of recycling.

Ryan Delzell, Plano’s environmental waste services management, said he got the call about the fire. He initially thought it was a small fire that would delay their services for a week or two, then they’d be back to business as usual.

“I didn’t find out until the following morning that the facility was looking to be a complete loss. At that point, we were definitely concerned,” he said.

Recycling trends have declined over the past seven years as fewer homes recycle and recycling facilities make less profit. As a result, there are not many options in the area, Delzell said.

Two weeks after the fire, Republic Services found a replacement recycling facility - the Garland Recycling Facility - that could meet Plano’s needs in the interim. Plano recycles about 90 tons per day, four days a week. On average, the city recycles over 20,000 tons of items per year, so the challenge was finding a facility and adjusting to unforeseen costs.

“Our operation had to rebalance and reallocate resources in order to absorb the longer drive time to that new facility in Garland,” he said, “Other than that, it was pretty seamless for the residents. They continue to do what they do, and we continue to pick it up.”

Aside from the time between recycling facilities, residents haven’t felt a hiccup in services, he said. The adjustment has sparked longer commutes and more fuel costs to drivers, but “increased costs have been minimal, fortunately,” Delzell said.

The commute added an extra 15-20 minutes to a driver’s normal route, but there hasn’t been extended hours, overtime or constraints on the budget.

“We’ve been fortunate to hire a new route driver each year as Plano continues to build out each year,” he said.

This year, they’ve seen higher fuel costs and slightly more wear-and-tear on the vehicles, but “as far as tangible costs, we haven’t seen any major increases,” Delzell said.

The new Republic Services facility should be rebuilt by January 2019, so until then, Garland will be the interim recycling facility. In the year after the fire, recycling services are still available to residents thanks to some collaboration, flexibility and a little bit of luck, Delzell said.

“We did dodge a bullet there. It was a situation that was bad that could have been a lot worse.”

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