The recycling stereotype 

A new study of citywide recycling says that a greater number of Northside households recycle and those homes, on average, recycle more material than residents in other parts of the city. But that might not mean San Antonio’s wealthier zip codes are recycling role models, environmental-services professionals say.

About 330,000 homes in San Antonio use the City’s free curbside recycling pickup program; 30 percent recycle every week and 85 percent do it at least once a month. Who in town is filling up their green bins?

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“We’re finding that locations that have more recycling tend to be wealthier areas of the city, meaning the North Side,” said City Councilman Art Hall, referring to a recent study of Districts 8 and 5, which cover the northwest and some central parts of San Antonio, respectively.

The North Side has twice as many recycling collection routes as the South Side, (each recycling route consists of 2,500 homes). But the City’s numbers may not be a surefire guide to discern ecological virtue, because those who live in the south may re-use more than they recycle.

“We can’t scientifically say `the South Side` is recycling less `overall`, but they are recycling less with the City,” said Francisco Martinez, San Antonio’s Clean Community coordinator.

Alan Watts of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality saw the same discrepancies when he was a manager of Austin’s recycling program: Houses with a higher property value recycled more. But, Watts pointed out, those homes also tended to generate more trash in the form of packaging and newspapers. Paper makes up more than half of the recyclable materials generated by San Antonio residences. And when you consider that the city’s wealthiest zip code is now uncorking its first curbside recycling program (on July 10), you have to wonder just how closely the desire to recycle correlates with fancy living (If it did, wouldn’t the ’09-ers have demanded the service long ago?).

In another, less-ritzy part of town, down south where I-90 meets 410, 69-year-old Frutoso Talamantes makes a trip to ABC Recycling once a month, trading in aluminum cans to collect about 30 cents per pound.

Talamantes, a Southwest ISD bus driver, says it’s not about the money — the most he has ever earned in a single trip is $5, just enough to pay for lunch at his favorite taco place down the street from the recycling plant. “We gotta save our environment `and` take care of this Earth,” Talamantes said passionately. “It’s like oil; there’s only so much aluminum. Eventually, we’re going to run out of resources.”

Those in the recycling business appreciate Talamantes’s attitude, and want to encourage it across the class spectrum. “We are currently ... focusing on the southern half of the city for more recycling education, which we believe will yield more participation,” said Rose Ryan, Solid Waste Division Manager for the city. “Residents must know that ... one person can really make a difference by recycling.”

Considering it costs nothing extra for a resident to recycle with the City, it is unfair to say that a person won’t recycle because they are poor, said Cis Myers, executive director of the Recycling Alliance of Texas.

“It’s education of the public about the value of recycling, not wealth,” she said. “If you educate people with a lower income about benefits of recycling, they often recycle more.”

If you are a taxpayer in the City of San Antonio and do not have a recycling bin, call 311 and one will be delivered in about a week, gratis.


More by Katherine Stump

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