San Antonio boasts worst recycling rate of largest U.S. cities

Greg Harman

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Thank God for OKC.

Texans used to chortle snide gratitudes for Louisiana, the only state in the Union that regularly ranked lower in terms of health care, education, and the number of crackling towers of burning toxic waste. Until we went Republican, anyway, and we started swapping places with the Magnolia State.

But in the race to turn trash into treasure â?? or at least make recyclables a revenue stream worth a dime â?? Texans can now turn up false pitying noses at poor Oklahoma City, where only 3 percent of the trash stream gets recycled.

But don't gloat too long, San Antonio. You're only an imperceptible rise higher at 4 percent, based on 2007 numbers, according a recent report in Waste & Recycling News.

Compared to superstars like San Francisco (70 percent), Portland (63 percent), and Dallas (44.6 percent), San Antonio and Oklahoma City are the leaching goop at the bottom of the heap that is the 30 most populous U.S. city rankings.

Other Texas cities ranked as follows:

Austin, 28.8 percent, earning $2 million

Dallas, 44.6 percent, earning $2.1 million

El Paso, 18.5 percent, earning $950,000

Fort Worth, 23 percent, earning $2.8 million

Houston, 16.7 percent, earning $1 million

While San Antonio's brown and blue trash and recycling collection system is supremely easy, it seems it has yet to enter full flower.

But wait just a wastepaper pickin' minute! says San Anto's dean of the recycling scene, Steve Haney, interim assistant director at Solid Waste.

For starters, Waste & Recycling News has year-old data for San Antonio. (Now just how did that happen?)

For seconders, even the editors at the trash paper (You gotta expect some ribbing from time to time, don't ya, waste writers?) admit they aren't providing a ranking of programs, per se.

The purpose of our seventh annual Municipal Recycling Survey is to illustrate what major cities are recycling, the methods they are using and how they are financing this service. Our survey is not a ranking. We are not proclaiming that cities with high recycling rates have the best program and those with low recycling rates operate the worst programs. Municipal recycling is far more complicated than that.

Some cities collect more diverse materials. Some cities fund their programs better. Some cities have mandated programs that unfairly increases their rates. Boo hoo, right? So, nothing against the staff of San Antonio's recycling operations, but there are policies that could be improved to set the city on a stronger course.

I'm thinking expanding services to apartments, making paper, glass, and plastic mandatory ... but it's probably just the flu meds talkin'. One can dream.

However, in SA, the numbers did shoot up appreciably in 2008.

Data provided by the city in response to Current Open Records Requests show that collections across all categories of recyclables increased last year. Thankfully, so did the recycling revenue â?? growing from $1.1 million in 2007 to $3.5 million last year.

So, what are you going to do about it, San Antonio? You can't go sneering at Oklahoma forever.

The way these landfills are piling up, you may not be able to see them before too long!

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