Decision Points

May 2010 - Posts

Cost questions impact timing of curbside recycling proposal

Questions regarding costs, both long term and short term, have pushed back City Council consideration of universal curbside recycling service in Round Rock.

Initially, the Council was to consider adopting a new residential solid waste disposal program in April, to go into effect on Oct. 1. Since then, there have been a couple of significant developments crop up as we work with our solid waste disposal provider, Round Rock Refuse.

Utilities Director Michael Thane made a presentation at the April 22 City Council meeting (Item 6D1 on the agenda).

Currently, most recyclables in our area are driven to San Antonio because there are no single-stream processing facilities in Central Texas. A facility was planned to be built in Austin, but that project is not proceeding as scheduled, so Round Rock Refuse is looking into the possibility of building its own recycling facility in Williamson County.

Diverting waste from landfills is becoming a bottom line issue as well as an environmental one. Landfill costs will increase 5 percent a year for the next three years; this is on top of a doubling of costs in 2009. So an effective recycling program is critical to managing long-term solid waste disposal costs for our citizens.

The short-term cost issue regards containers. The City may be able to purchase new, standardized containers for both garbage and recyclables for a slightly lower cost than Round Rock Refuse. We are still working through the pros and cons of the City purchasing and owning the containers versus Round Rock Refuse doing so.

Giving Round Rock Refuse time to develop plans for a single-stream facility and sorting through the container ownership issue means a new program likely won’t be in place until spring 2011.

“Because of increasing problems with landfill space and costs, the Council has a responsibility to address this issue now,” Mayor Alan McGraw said. “But we need to get the details right, and at the right price for our customers.”

The proposal initially considered by the City Council, which would replace the current residential trash pickup program, would feature:

  • Once a week garbage pickup, with an 96-gallon trash container provided
  • Every other week recycling pickup, with a 96-gallon recycling container provided
  • Cost of the service was estimated to be approximately $16.71 per month

Currently, residents receive twice-weekly garbage pickup for $13.95 per month (no container provided) and can access drop-off recycling services at the City’s Recycling Center on Deepwood Drive. Participants in the current subscription recycling program offered by Round Rock Refuse pay $4 a month and are provided with an 18-gallon container.

An effective solid waste program will reduce the amount of unnecessary material going into landfills, and save significant wear and tear on City streets as garbage trucks will make fewer trips.

The City Council discussed curbside recycling options at its retreat in February. The once a week garbage pickup and every other week recycling, with containers provided, is the same as recently implemented programs in Cedar Park and Pflugerville.

The primary concerns we have heard from citizens regarding the proposal are:

  • Increasing the base cost of trash pickup while decreasing the number of times trash is picked up per week
  • Losing the choice whether to recycle
  • Storing two 96-gallon containers in their garages will be difficult

Other options considered by the City Council are: weekly garbage and weekly recycling pickup with containers provided ($17.50 per month); weekly garbage and every other week recycling without a trash container provided and a 96-gallon recycling container provided ($15.34 per month); weekly garbage and weekly recycling without a trash container provided and a 60-gallon recycling container provided ($15.78 per month).

In the City’s 2008 customer service survey, we asked respondents a series of questions on curbside recycling. The highest level of agreement was to the question, “What’s most important is that the city ensures the best service at the best price,” with 89 percent agreeing, and 8 percent disagreeing.

The survey also asked respondents if they supported the City implementing a curbside recycling program for all city residents and 81 percent said they did; 71 percent agreed that what’s important is keeping service the way it is.

For those residents who want to set out more than the 96-gallon garbage container, Round Rock Refuse General Manager Ralph Rocco told the City Council in February that additional items/trash will be picked up as well.

“If they set it out on the curb, we’ll pick it up,” Rocco told the City Council. “For the vast majority of people, the 96-gallon container should be enough, but we will pick up additional containers if folks set them out. If you haven’t been recycling, you’ll be surprised at how much it will reduce the waste going into your regular trash.”

The City conducted a pilot program of the service last year, and 39 of the 43 participants said the 96-gallon container was sufficient for weekly garbage disposal needs. Forty-one of the 43 participants said they would like to see the service implemented full-time.

Participants in the pilot program included City Councilmembers, neighborhood association leaders, interested citizens and City staff members.

Rocco said if people do not want to participate in the curbside recycling service, Round Rock Refuse will simply pick up the recycling containers. However, their monthly charge will remain the same.