The average American generates 4 pounds of trash per day and the average family sends 1 ton of trash to the landfill each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Rising fuel prices and diminishing natural resources required for processing all that waste are driving most Central Texas cities to establish more sustainable solutions, such as mandatory curbside recycling programs.
But those programs come at a cost.
The Killeen City Council is considering a $4.6 million plan to overhaul the city’s recycling program, outlined last week in a presentation by the city’s recycling director.
The startup costs include purchasing seven recycling trucks, 46,000 recycling carts — one for each household — and hiring two drivers.
After hearing the presentation last week, Killeen Mayor Dan Corbin said he was optimistic the council would adopt “a better recycling program than the present program.”
The incentives for the current program are flawed — residents pay an extra $2.48 per month for the recycling service, while those who do not recycle pay nothing. As a result, just 3,550 households participate.
Although the new program will generate some cost savings, from reduced hauling and landfill fees and recycling sales, local officials have said the program will not make money on its own.
Why do it, if it means forcing residents — even those opposed to the program — to pay an additional $2.50 on their solid waste bill? Because it’s the right thing to do, Corbin said.
“Why should people have a library, why should people have a senior center? ... That’s what government does,” Corbin said. “(Recycling) should be a priority for every community.”
Michael Cleghorn, Killeen’s director of recycling, said if the city can recycle more, it should. “Recycling protects the environment by eliminating unnecessary waste that would otherwise end up in the landfill.”
Establishing citywide single-stream recycling would take 16 months to two years to implement, Cleghorn said.
The single-stream program would mean residents put all their recyclables into one household cart, which is collected by the city and sorted by a processor at a materials recovery facility.
Cleghorn said the city would take a “phased approach” and the funds would come out of the solid waste budget for the fiscal year 2013-2014, which begins Oct. 1.
The city’s current program, which began in 2001, diverted 480 tons each year from the city’s trash collection through 3,550 curbside recycling customers.
If the citywide mandatory recycling plan is fully implemented, the city could potentially divert 11,040 tons of recycling, with 46,000 households participating.
Cleghorn said no cities other than Killeen have voluntary subscription for curbside recycling pickup.
Most midsize cities — including Copperas Cove, College Station and Waco — have mandatory citywide curbside recycling. Harker Heights, Temple and Nolanville do not have curbside recycling programs but are looking at options to begin them soon.
All the trash from Killeen households — as with cities from seven counties in Texas — ends up at a Temple landfill.
Among the proposals on the table for Killeen would be establishing a regional recycling center on south State Highway 195 at the city’s old transfer station, which is not in use.
Cleghorn offered the use of the old transfer station as a processing facility to the prospective recycling companies, because the facility may greatly reduce startup costs.
“This would give us the ability to prove-out the program,” Cleghorn said.
“It wouldn’t cost them a lot of money for capital outlay. It would get the program up and running and, if it were available, allow us to use that facility for outlying communities to bring their recycling.”
Corbin said building a regional recycling center in south Killeen would bring jobs to the area and encourage other area cities to recycle.
“I think that the ultimate plan would be to get all of the municipalities in the region and Fort Hood family housing to agree to ship the stuff to one partner,” Corbin said.
Balcones Resources, one of the prospective recycling contractors, just built a $10.5 million materials recovery facility just north of Austin.
Steve Shannon, municipal services manager at Balcones, said the facility uses a combination of high-tech equipment including robotic screens, magnets, separators and hands-on sorting to process the recyclables, for sale to commercial buyers, called end-use mills.
“This (Austin) facility was designed to serve as a region,” Shannon said. “You can build them cheaper than that but the economy of scale is a big factor in the viability of these things.”
Shannon said that almost all of the 100 largest cities in the U.S. have at least one materials recovery facility; however, midsize cities, such as Killeen, struggle to aggregate enough tons to justify starting one.
One possibility would be a sort of satellite facility at the transfer station for partial separation of materials, which diverts large items such as card board, Shannon said.
“When you are talking about separating cans from plastic bottles, you are talking about a multimillion-dollar facility,” Shannon said. “It takes thousands of tons a month to support that.”
Randy Doyle, environmental specialist at Fort Hood, has been working with neighboring cities to coordinate recycling programs for a regional facility for several years.
“We need 75,000 to 100,000 rooftops to make it reasonable to lead a region with a regional facility,” Doyle said.
“There’s a lot of stuff that needs to get evaluated but it’s the right thing to do.”