Earlier this month, Plano received high marks on its livability and sustainability ratings from the national STAR Community Rating System, which noted the city’s performance in conservation and environmental health. On the heels of that recognition, the city is now looking to forward its conservation efforts by partnering with a private company to enhance recycling by residents and businesses.
According to city staff, while Plano has made progress in the amount of materials it recycles since it first implemented citywide recycling programs nearly two decades ago, that level has peaked, leading officials to seek options to improve the programs.
On Monday, the City Council instructed the environmental waste department to solidify plans to partner with a company called Simple Recycling, a privately run company that collects recyclable textiles and other household items that many residents simply throw away and that end up in a landfill.
“Plano has led the state of Texas as well as our region in environmental programs, specifically recycling waste diversion programs,” said Robert Smouse, environmental waste services manager, at Monday’s meeting. “It supports resource conservation, and really, simply, it’s the right thing to do.”
The city began encouraging recycling programs in the early 1990s. The goal of the program was to divert 40 percent of residents’ and businesses’ waste to be recycled rather than take up space at a landfill. While that goal has nearly been met, with a combined commercial and residential recycling rate of 38.5 percent last year, the city’s recycling effort peaked in 2008 and has since gradually declined. Smouse attributed some of the decline, which is measured in the weight of materials collected, to changes made by manufacturers in recent years, such as bottles and cans being produced with less material.
Two categories of recycling material commonly tossed in with the rest of residents’ trash and which are not specifically targeted for pickup by the city are textiles, such as clothing, and household items, such as appliances. These are typically collected by nonprofits at drop-off boxes and are either disposed of or resold at thrift shops.
Environmental waste staff members are looking to partner with Simple Recycling to reach a new goal of increasing the city’s recycling diversion rate to 50 percent.
Simple Recycling offers curbside recycling pickup for free for residents and the city. According to a report by Environmental Waste Services, the public-private partnership has been met with positive reception in Ohio and Michigan, where the company has operated since 2013.
“We look at this as truly an addition to the recycling program that’s already in place,” said Adam Winfield, president of Simple Recycling, at the meeting. “It’s a turnkey program that Simple Recycling operates from start to finish, it’s simple and it’s easy for the residents to understand and adopt, and not only does it save Plano money, it also makes Plano money.”
The City Council has yet to approve a contract with Simple Recycling, but Environmental Waste Services is expected to bring forward a contract for adoption by July or August.
According to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates, about 70 pounds of clothing per person are thrown away each year, which would mean Plano residents throw away more than 18 million pounds of clothing per year, based on the city’s population. The EPA also states that clothing and other household textiles account for 5.2 percent of landfill waste.
“Staff believes it’s now time to challenge and encourage the community, residentially speaking as well as commercially speaking,” Smouse said at Monday’s meeting.
Simple Recycling officials said that collections made by the company would coincide with the city’s already established recycling pickup days. Generally, between 10 and 20 percent of the materials picked up by Simple Recycling is sold to local thrift shops and nonprofits to be reused; the rest is either exported overseas or is broken down to be repurposed for things like wiping rags and insulation.
The company then compensates the city at a rate of $20 per ton of recycled material collected, potentially generating about $47,512 in revenue for Plano.
Winfield said contracts with cities are for three-years, with no operation requirements for the city. If Plano were to back out of the agreement, the contract likely would require that the city not partner with any similar company until the end of that three-year timeframe, because of the cost and effort Simple Recycling would put into getting the program off the ground.
“It sounds like a great program to me – very proactive,” said Mayor Pro Tem Lissa Smith at the meeting.
Council members were mostly supportive of pursuing a contract with the company. One concern, raised by Mayor Harry LaRosiliere, was the use of the city logo on material Simple Recycling would plan to mail out to residents in advance of beginning the service.
But, Smouse said other cities that have partnered with Simple Recycling have reported no issues with the customer service the company provides. He added that city staff would likely also be trained to handle basic customer service questions if residents were to call about the program.
A contract for approval will likely be brought before the City Council by the end of summer. If approved, the program would take a few months before being fully implemented.
“The key to the model is to maximize the utility of what’s collected and therefore the value, and then we pass that value on to the city,” Winfield said.
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