City Proposes Smaller Trash Carts, Variable Pricing

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Empty trash bins. Photo by Flickr user Ryan Dickey.

Empty trash bins. Photo by Flickr user Ryan Dickey.

David W. McCary is tall, always elegantly dressed and a courtly speaker. Sometimes, watching and listening to him address an audience, it’s hard to believe he’s in the down and dirty garbage business.

McCary, the City’s director of Solid Waste Management, is known for making trash, recycling and composting sound interesting. He did it again Wednesday, holding City Council’s attention for nearly two hours as he presented his department’s 2015 proposed budget and fielded every question with a convincing answer.

Such presentations always include individual questions from Council members, but it was District 4 Councilmember Rey Saldaña who came right to the point, saying, “David, you come here and you always talk trash.”

That drew a laugh, but it’s true.

Director of Solid Waste Management David McCary

Director of Solid Waste Management David McCary

McCary arrived complete with props, including three disposal carts of different sizes, including the familiar 96 gallon cart most commonly used in San Antonio, along with the newer 60 gallon and 48 gallon options. McCary actually had a colleague demonstrate how to load three bags of recycling into the smallest cart, and somehow, it seemed instructive and entertaining.

The City began accepting plastic bags for recycling on Aug. 1 and McCary himself demonstrated how to “make a soccer ball” by stuffing all the loose bags into a single bag – only after paper receipts were first removed – and then showing his “drop and go” move into the cart as if he were completing a casual dunk.

“We are excited about where we are in solid waste,” McCary declared at the start of his presentation, noting that the City has reached a halfway milestone with residents now recycling 30 percent of their garbage. The City’s goal is to recycle 60 percent of all trash by 2025. That number was a mere seven percent in 2006.

McCary came with the cart choices to show the options that residents will soon enjoy. Most homeowners will want to downsize their carts, which are efficient but not exactly aesthetically pleasing. The cart choices represent a move by the City to make recycling and composting pay off financially for residents.

Homeowners who produce less garbage and require smaller carts will see their bills decrease over time. Residents who produce large volumes of trash and continue to require the biggest carts will pay more each month. Right now everyone pays $19.93 a month for landfill pickup one day and recycling and composting, for those who participate, on a second day.

By 2019, residents using the smallest carts will still pay $19.93, while those needing the large carts will pay $29.93. McCary called on Council to place the variable cart and pricing plan on an accelerated schedule, starting it in October 2015 and completing the transition in April 2017.

SWMD Budget Presentation small cart proposal

If Council approves the budget, everyone will see their bill go up by $1 month in the short run to help fund some of the changes McCary is proposing. Click here to review his presentation to Council.

McCary said the pilot program introducing organic composting only attracted a small percentage of customers because of the $3 monthly fee the City charged for the service. Those who did participate, he said, diverted an average of 800 pounds of organic waste for composting annually that otherwise would have gone into the landfill. The key to implementing the program more broadly, McCary said, is for residents to see the program as one that will reduce their monthly bill.

The most surprising statistic in McCary’s presentation was the amount of trash produced by the average San Antonio family of six in a single week, which is 73 pounds or eight kitchen bags. McCary said his department’s analysis showed, on average,  that three of the eight bags were organic material suitable for composting and two bags worth of trash were recyclables. That leaves only three bags bound for the landfill.

Families that ignore the City’s initiatives, McCary pointed out, will need the $29.93 big cart and they will pay $120 a year more than more environmentally minded consumers who produce less trash and make do with a small cart.

“Hey, even our five-year-old children get it, and if they get it, why shouldn’t we get it, too?” McCary asked Council members. “Variable pricing is effective because it will give customers more control over their garbage bill.”

The City also benefits financially.

“For every ton of material we recycle, the City makes $10,” McCary said, “and for every ton we don’t take to the landfill we save $23.”

Seniors and individuals with disabilities or physical injuries who cannot move trash and recycling carts on to the street for pickup can call 311 and obtain a city form that with a physician’s signature will result in Solid Waste Department workers doing it for you at no charge.

*Featured/top image: Empty trash bins. Photo by Flickr user Ryan Dickey. 

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It’s Official, Let the Composting Begin! Council Passes Organics Recycling Program

Should San Antonio Ban Plastic and Paper Bags?

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22 thoughts on “City Proposes Smaller Trash Carts, Variable Pricing

  1. Yes, we’re a 75%+ recycle/compost household and can easily make smaller carts work. Our trash can is never even half full.

  2. We could also easily make do with a smaller can, but i fear this proposal will contribute to the already horrible amount of dumping & litter….everywhere. I’m all for it, but don’t want our city’s beauty to suffer because residents are trying to save $$ by not putting trash in their own bins!

  3. Give me a smaller trash cart, smaller recycling cart (our big one is never more than 25% full and we recycle everything) and a huge organics cart, plus the option of having once a month brush/large organics pick up.

  4. “Right now everyone pays $19.93 a month for landfill pickup one day and recycling and composting, for those who participate, on a second day.”

    Those of us who currently participate in the Organics program pay $22.93 because we are paying the $3/month charge for the green cart collection. Is the city going to issue green carts to everyone? At what point will they remove the $3 fee for those currently participating?

    I think the numbers presented are misleading. I put organic material in the green cart that I never would have put in the brown can because there simply wouldn’t have been room. For example, before the green cart, I had to bag my leaves in brown paper lawn bags (2x per year) and call the city for pickup. Now, I always put the leaves directly in the green can. Also, when my grass is high, I now collect the clippings and put them in my green cart. The clippings and leaves account for a lot of weight that was never in the trash. If other people did the same thing as me, the numbers presented by Solid Waste are simply false – it’s not redirected trash.

    How long will it take the City to recover the cost of issuing a new smaller brown can to a household with an existing larger brown can?

    The city originally rolled out the green cans for 6 months at no charge. When the fee was implemented, the city collected the cans from households who did not want to participate. Less than 50% of my neighborhood opted in. While we put a lot of leftovers in the green can, it’s not convenient. You need old newspaper or brown paper shopping bags to wrap the household organic waste before throwing it in the can. I think there will be a lot of push back from this proposal based on my neighbors’ response to using the cans. Even if people don’t produce large amounts of trash they will still want the larger can for the occasional tall or bulky item without having to pay a significant cost difference.

  5. If Mrs. McCary is reading this I just want to say Hi! It’s me, Joel, from the Purchasing Department. It’s nice to know he’s still in charge and doing a great job! Keep up the good work Mr. McCary!

  6. If Mrs. McCary is reading this I just want to say Hi! It’s me, Joel, from the Purchasing Department. It’s nice to know he’s still in charge and doing a great job! Keep up the good work Mr. McCary!

  7. The smaller cart will more than meet my needs, but I’m wondering what will happen to all the existing large carts.

  8. I put my trash/recycle out once every two months if that. The smaller cart will just make me have to do it more often, forcing me to be home to set it out or bring it back in. Doesn’t make sense. I don’t think the size of your trashcan dictates how much garbage you produce.

    • Additionally, the amount of trash/recycling varies at different types of year. Consider how much trash you have right after Christmas and Thanksgiving. The current trash cans are not large enough for that time of year.

      Or in the fall when you rake up leaves. It’s a pain in the ass having to get special leave bags and then schedule with the city to make a special pickup.

      But then the rest of the year I sometimes don’t put out trash for a month at a time. And recycling is even more rare than that. I miss the good old days of being able to put out however much trash I wanted when I wanted.

      But alas the city continues to give us less and try to convince they are giving us more.

  9. So for the same price as we’re paying now we get smaller bins, and if we want to keep the current size we get to pay more? That’s government efficiency right there trying to spin this like it’s a good thing.

    • Given the net present value of money, being told the current price of a service will hold for the next six years means you’ll be paying less, not more, for the same service.–RR

  10. Dear Bob,

    Thanks for the coverage of the David McCary advancement of recycling in SA!

    This is not a glitzy issue but a critical one for any County, but especially the large, urban ones with no room to spare!


  11. I read the proposal. I read the articles. The tv news said I can save money by opting for a smaller can. These articles say I can save money. But all I see is that I will be paying $1.00 more.
    So where exactly is my savings?

  12. I had no idea that by recycling 30% of our trash each year, we can save enough energy to equal 11.9 billion gallons of gasoline. That is an extremely high number! I think there should be more awareness of taking care of the environment.

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