24 Jun 2022

The city of Dallas has made a firm commitment to be more environmentally friendly with a zero-waste goal in less than 20 years’ time. In fact, they have gone further than a commitment and have passed this into legislation in 2012. They will recycle the majority of their waste, with 84% of their waste to be recycled according to the legislation passed. The remaining 16% of the waste created in the city is not currently recyclable

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This currently only affects waste collection completed by the city but will grow to encompass municipal waste collection and also waste disposed of through private dumpster rental. 


Why the Goal was Created

Using landfills for waste has been popular in the US for decades, largely owing to the available space, especially in less populated areas. However, as the population is growing quickly and space for landfills becomes smaller and smaller cities are having to create alternative options. 

Recycling is becoming an increasingly popular option for larger cities. Creating legislation is an important step in ensuring that recycling does actually take place. 77% of the waste in 2012 produced in Dallas was sent to a landfill. And with 2.2 million tonnes of waste produced annually, this is an extensive amount of landfill waste each year. If this continues unchecked for the next three decades in every major city in the state, there would very quickly be a shortage of landfill space. 

The prediction in 2012 was that the population in Dallas would grow approximately 40% by 2040, which would theoretically increase their waste volume and landfill volume by 40% also. With a bigger population, there would need to be more housing. Meaning there would be less landfill space but more waste. A concrete plan for recycling, therefore, makes sense in not only Dallas but all cities before it becomes too little too late. 


What does the Legislation Mandate?

The initial legislation, which was passed in 2013, was not without challenges. The city council and members of the public challenged certain aspects of the legislation. Plans to gradually increase the scope of recycling by making it mandatory for apartments and businesses were removed in order to get the legislation passed. There were also plans to ban polystyrene and introduce food waste disposal in the initial legislation, which was also removed in order to get it through. 

The city reserved the right to make changes in the future and was in discussion in 2013 regarding when the next steps of their considerations would be put in place. A city-wide consultation was held with various influential groups to reach acceptable compromises and discuss the next steps.

Apartment complexes were initially an area of contention as their waste disposal is always contracted out. Making recycling mandatory for all apartment complexes then carries the added complication of each of the waste disposal companies being required to recycle also. Most waste disposal companies add additional charges for recycling. Making recycling mandatory in an apartment complex then means increasing the disposal costs for the same volume of waste for each apartment owner. 

What Progress has been made?

The plans for recycling got off to a slower than anticipated start. The city of Dallas set interim goals to help chart their progress throughout the 28 years of their plan. Their first goal was to have all residential and business waste hit a 40% recycling rate by 2020. In 2016 this was at 21%, a little over half of the requirement. 

To help the city reach its goals, residential homes (not including apartment complexes) now have weekly recycling pick up. Apartment complexes still have the option to add recycling with the contracted-out waste collectors. If this is not chosen, there are now recycling dumpsters at 140 locations throughout the city. 

The city has made brilliant use of social media using various platforms to highlight recycling opportunities. There has also been an app released allowing Dallas residents to search for their nearest recycling dumpster or center. 

In 2016 approximately 20% of homes still did not have a home recycling cart. The Sanitation Services department decided to take a more hands-on approach and go door-to-door to discuss recycling with those residents. 

There is still some way to go to achieve the zero-waste goal by 2040, as in 2022, the city is still only seeing around 20% of waste recycled from residential properties and businesses. The reasoning for this has been given as being due to the increased population so far in the city. 


What is now being done?

The Sanitation Services department has been working on new plans to increase the buy-in with recycling in the city. This has included new goals set for 2030 and 2050 rather than 2040. Their website has an updated Local Solid Waste Management Plan (LSWMP). This includes what they will do to help residents to become more engaged with the department’s plans and how to improve recycling in general. 

The department is consulting with residents on their new LSWMP before it puts it into practice. The city will then review the new LSWMP and use this to form their departmental planning for the next eight years. 

The main focus remains on increasing recycling and reducing the waste that is sent to landfills. However, due to local and global circumstances over the last decade, the plans have been redesigned to remain relevant and achievable. Changing with the current circumstances is the only way for the goals to realistically be achieved.