Talkin' Trash in Texas...And What's Up With That Sad Recycling Rate? :(

In Texas, there are close to 200 active landfills and many have been filling up so quickly over the years that even in Austin, a city considered to be “green” and “eco-friendly”, three out of the 5 local landfills are scheduled to shut down soon.

We all know that recycling is important and something in which everyone should be allowed to participate as it can be a critical economic driver that helps grow businesses, keeps people employed, generates tax revenue, and of course, keeps our communities clean and garbage free. It has also become increasingly important for people and businesses to not only have access to recycling programs so they can be responsible with discards, but to be better educated on consumption habits and our disposable culture. 

Today, we’ll evaluate a recently released study by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which was mandated by the 84th Texas State Legislature under House Bill 2763, on the economic impacts of recycling and the lost revenue due to material not being recycled. The study was conducted by Burns & McDonnell and the State of Texas Alliance for Recycling (STAR), which also released the 2015 Texas Recycling Data Initiative (TRDI), a voluntary survey of landfill, recycling, and composting operators across the state to understand baseline waste diversion measurements.

An objective of the TCEQ study was to not only measure recycling in Texas, but to also provide an update to the recycling rate measured during the 2015 TRDI study. A recycling rate indicates what percentage of wastes generated by a population is diverted from landfills.

Some key measurements from the study include:

  • The generators of MSW recyclables that were studied included single-family dwellings and apartment buildings, restaurants, office parks, retail stores, hospitals, universities, and government facilities.
  • Approximately 9.2 million tons of municipal solid waste-designated material were diverted from landfills, and instead, recycled in Texas in 2015.
  • Of that 9.2 million tons, materials including paper, plastics, metal, and glass, yard trimmings, brush, green waste, food and beverage materials, and construction and demolition (C&D) discards accounted for 8.7 million tons, or 94.4% of the total recycled materials in Texas.
  • Based on the tons of municipal solid waste recycling reported for this study, the 2015 recycling rate for municipal solid waste in Texas was 22.7% and taking into account the average commodity market for typical recyclables, organic wastes, and C&D materials, the dollar amount of recycled materials in 2015 was $702 million in Texas.
  • Recycling of municipal solid waste creates economic benefits for the Texas economy, with more than 17,000 person years of direct, indirect, and induced employment supported during 2015. The overall impact of recycling MSW on the Texas economy exceeded $3.3 billion.

With Texas diverting only 22.7% of recyclable materials away from landfills, there is much work to be done. Yes, setting strong state and local recycling policies and initiating public education and outreach campaigns can pave the way toward an economic boon, but we must also look at our society's acceptance of disposability and how manufacturers plan obsolescence in the products we buy. With more conscious purchasing habits to reduce consumption, customer demand for sturdier products that are designed for recycling, and creating residential and business recycling policies across the state, Texas can take bolder steps to boost entrepreneurship, job creation, better materials management, deeper sustainability accomplishments, and a cleaner environment.

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