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Austin’s residential recycling back in the black

Thursday, January 27, 2011 by Michael Kanin

Austin’s Solid Waste Services Department has seen an upswing in the proceeds it collects as part of its residential single stream recycling program. After a negative October – which found the city paying $10,437 – the effort moved into the black with $14,305 in income for November and $52,518 for December.


Those figures give the city a net $56,466 gain since Texas Disposal Systems became the city’s single stream contractor in October. According to department Director Bob Gedert, the good news is attributable to a better market for those goods and the department’s new relationship with Texas Disposal. “The combination of better markets and the new contract have put us in the black,” said Gedert. “The main differential (in the contracts) is reduced transportation costs. I believe that (those) have been cut in half.”


Texas Disposal Systems won a short-term deal to handle the city’s single stream recycling after a lengthy, heated battle that included allegations of improper behavior on their part. At the time, City Council agreed to put off a longer-term solution.


Greenstar North America had handled the collection and resale of single stream recycling goods for the city since the program began in 2008. Mounting costs associated with their contract had caused some amount of heartburn for city officials, who forked over roughly $2.65 million in fiscal year 2010 alone.


The firm had been shipping Austin’s recycling to a facility in San Antonio.


Gedert noted the index price used to measure the health of the recycling commodities market had seen its 35-year floor over a three-month period that occurred in the middle of the Greenstar deal. The price then was $40 a ton for the goods. It is now at $120.


“It’s an up-and-down roller coaster,” he said.


Though he added that he was reluctant to play the role of prognosticator, Gedert feels things might be looking up for the recycling market. “When I talk to the experts … they’re saying we’re going to have a strong year,” he said.


According to Gedert, negotiations with Texas Disposal Systems and another firm, Balcones Recycling, over the long-term agreement that will replace the former company’s current deal will come to a close sometime in the next 10 days. He expects to present a range of options – including arrangements that would split responsibilities for the new contract between the two firms in a variety of ways – to the Council in early March.


Since assuming the contract, Texas Disposal Systems has gone to two shifts on the facility it uses to process single stream recycling. Those efforts employ just over 80 people.

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