Olmos Park, Terrell Hills ask residents to cut back on recycling due to high costs

BEXAR COUNTY, Texas – Small cities surrounding San Antonio are cutting back on their recycling.

Recently, some of those cities have asked residents to no longer put certain items in their bins because of high recycling costs.

“It was just sudden,” said Kerry Quinn, an Olmos Park resident.

Quinn and Olmos Park resident Mary Kay Stewart both said they were thrown off when they got a notice in the mail last week saying that, due to the changing world of recycling, Olmos Park residents are being asked to cut back on recycling certain items.

“We are really unhappy now because the options are so few,” Stewart said.

They aren't alone. Terrell Hills recently also told residents the city was cutting back due to high costs.

The Terrell Hills Public Works Department said its average landfill cost is about $33 per ton.
The April recycling bill was more than double that amount at $66 a ton.

That's why both of the smaller cities, which contract with the company Waste Management, are opting to send more trash to the dump than recycle it.

KSAT reached out to Waste Management about the costs. The company sent us the following statement: 

“Many factors impact the cost of recycling; the type of material recycled, collection of the material, processing of the material, transportation of material to a processing plant, and the big "C" word – Contamination.  All of these factors have a direct impact on the cost of recycling.   One way communities can reduce the cost of recycling is to reduce contamination.  WM is working with our customers to use the tools in our recycling education and outreach program, http://recycleoftenrecycleright.com/ to help minimize contamination.” 

Olmos Park residents were asked to no longer put glass or any type of metal into their recycling bins. Terrell Hills residents were asked to no longer recycle glass, magazines or glossy paper.

Quinn said she wishes the city would have had a conversation with residents before the changes were made.

“I think we are just at a loss of what to do,” Quinn said.

KSAT reached out to Republic Services, the company San Antonio uses for recycling and garbage, to find out the reason for the changes. The company said it's because 30% of all recyclables in the U.S. for years were being sent to China.

“China, last year, enacted some new regulations that's made it more difficult to bring recycled goods into their nation,” said Tom Armstrong, manager of municipal services for Republic Services.

Armstrong said China is now accepting less than 1% of recyclables. 

“When that happened, the recycling markets unfortunately just collapsed,” he said.

This brought down the value of recycled goods tremendously, which is why Armstrong says smaller cities are feeling the impact.

“Smaller communities are not able to absorb that type of hit as well as a larger community," he said.

Republic Services said San Antonio residents shouldn't be affected in the near future. Armstrong said that's because the city has a contract with Republic Services until 2025 and bigger cities have larger budgets to absorb those kinds of costs.

Alamo Heights said it is also currently reviewing its recycling program due to increased costs. It also uses Waste Management to recycle.

Some Olmos Park residents understand why the city cut back but wish there could be other recycling alternatives.

“I understand where the city is coming from,” said Laura Chesler, who lives in Olmos Park. “It's unfortunate. It'd be nice to find a way to be able to continue to recycle.”

About the Authors:

Sarah Acosta is a weekend Good Morning San Antonio anchor and a general assignments reporter at KSAT12. She joined the news team in April 2018 as a morning reporter for GMSA and is a native South Texan.

Before starting at KSAT in August 2011, Ken was a news photographer at KENS. Before that he was a news photographer at KVDA TV in San Antonio. Ken graduated from San Antonio College with an associate's degree in Radio, TV and Film. Ken has won a Sun Coast Emmy and four Lone Star Emmys. Ken has been in the TV industry since 1994.