By Laura Fries
Companies compete to win San Antonio's recycling contract
Once a week, San Antonio puts out its green bins of recyclables for collection. A large City truck comes by, a man gets out, and bends over to lift the bin. He separates the paper from glass, plastic, and metal, sorting the items into two compartments. A Ziegenbock bottle with an upside down label, carefully rinsed and placed into the green bin, will be thrown into the belly of the truck. The bottle will make its way up 1-35 North to Abitibi Recycling, where it will be dumped onto the concrete floor of the warehouse. Later, a front loader will push a mound of glass and plastic bottles around on the floor. The Ziegenbock bottle will be dumped into another truck and taken to Vista Fibers, onto another concrete floor. There, it will go through a series of conveyor belts and separating machines. If it survives the process intact, it will be recycled, and perhaps return to H-E-B as another bottle of beer. But the chances of the bottle surviving are not great, and it is likely that the Ziegenbock, now in shards, will be landfilled.
Many in San Antonio doubt whether recycling actually occurs - as Abitibi manager Jason Petrie confides, "I had that perception until I came here." The City's recycling program has its flaws, like the issue with the broken glass, and the inability to currently recycle plastics Numbers 3 through 7. But the program is expected to be overhauled when companies both large and small vie for the coveted City contract. Bids are due April 26 - and the City anticipates radical changes in the recycling program.
The City's recycling contract is up for renewal, and its requirements are pushing companies to devise a single-stream method of recycling in order to win the contract. Single-stream combines all recyclable materials into one truck, which means that the Ziegenbock bottle would travel with an old issue of the Current to the same processing plant. Single-stream will be financially advantageous to the City, explains Dave Lopez, fiscal manager of the Environmental Services department. "It will allow the collectors to move down the route a little faster, so hopefully as the city grows, we won't have to add additional routes." At the processing plant, single-stream recycling would mean greater efficiency, which increases the amount of materials that can be processed, and lowers the cost.
Recycling technology has changed drastically in recent years. Now, there are end markets for the raw materials produced by recycling, a financial incentive for cities. Landfill space is diminishing rapidly, and diversion from the waste stream is a key component of many city programs. While it costs $18 per ton to landfill trash, it costs $15 per ton to recycle, a savings that quickly adds up. Furthermore, new equipment makes it possible to recycle all sorts of goods - even broken glass bottles.
The City's Solid Waste Manager Rose Ryan has returned to her hometown to implement the strategies she used successfully in California, a state that has mandated recycling. In Long Beach, California, she proudly relates, 100 percent of the city's trash is recycled. Much of the waste is captured curbside through the City's recycling program, and the rest of the trash is converted to electricity using a program called Waste to Energy. Faced with stiff penalties
Technology is such a vital part of the equation that Abitibi is planning a $3.5 million move to upgrade its facilities - even if they don't win the City contract. Vista is planning to bid on the contract, but won't be making any changes just yet: "You don't put this equipment in unless you have a contract," explains general manager John Raybon. Industry giants, like Waste Management and BFI, are also expected to bid.
Meanwhile, San Antonio is leaving the bidding open to allow for innovative ideas. "They don't want to pass up on an opportunity," comments Raybon, especially "if someone comes up with something they haven't heard of." •
` By Laura Fries `