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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Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.