Austin-based recycling company Balcones Resources is slated to take over recycling operations and open a new processing facility in San Antonio in 2024, pending land acquisition and contract approval by City Council this spring.

On Wednesday, council reviewed a scoring matrix that gave Balcones’ proposal for the 15-year contract the most points.

The company had the best pricing, best compensation for employees and included an educational component into its facility for tours, said David Newman, director of Solid Waste Management for the city.

“They are a recycler and only a recycler,” Newman said of Balcones. “Many of the firms that submitted are waste haulers, they own landfills, and maybe they do recycling on the side. But Balcones only does recycling.”

The city’s current contract with Phoenix-based Republic Services runs through July 2024. Republic’s proposal came in second with 71.43 points out of 100, compared to Balcones’ 80.50. Houston-based Waste Management scored 65.55.

Under the new contract, Balcones will expand what the city can recycle, Newman said, starting with aluminum foil and aluminum pie pans.

“This is also going to be … a marketing challenge or a new marketing opportunity for us, now that aluminum foil will be recycled,” Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) said, “because that comes on every taco I think any of us eat.”

What will be accepted in the future largely depends on the market for recycled materials, Newman said. “The long-term nature of the contract actually gives them some economies of scale and some security so that [Balcones] can innovate. … [And] because they’re a recycler only, it is in their best interest to innovate.”

While he had previously predicted that the cost of recycling would begin to mirror dumping trash — an estimated $28 per ton in 2024 — that will not be the case, Newman said.

Balcones projects an average net cost to the city of less than $3 per ton of recyclables in 2024. In 2020 the cost was $13 per ton under Republic, which projected a cost of nearly $7 in 2024.

After the city pays a tip fee, named for the truck tipping out the material, the city would benefit from a 75% revenue share from the recycled materials that Balcones sells.

San Antonio residents produce 80,000 to 90,000 tons of recycling on average per year, Newman said. About 18% of that ultimately gets diverted to garbage dumps due to incorrect sorting or contamination.

The city’s goal is to recycle 60% of residential waste by 2025, he noted. San Antonio is at about 40%.

Balcones plans to hire 46 full-time employees with benefits to start, who will be based out of a processing facility that is planned to have walking trails, solar panels, an education center and a viewing gallery, where visitors can see how recycling works.

“It’s not just a functional warehouse building, but something that I believe they and we can be proud of,” Newman said.

Balcones has one property currently under contract, but is looking at others across the city, he said. “At this time, it’s not something that they want to make public due to the red hot real estate market.”

Once the property is secured, City Council will review the location and is slated to vote on the contract this spring.

“I do have a debate that you could probably settle for me now since there [are] some changes in what can go in the cart,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said to Newman. “Do empty pizza boxes go in the [organic cart] or the recycle bin?”

Because of lingering grease and cheese on those boxes, those go in the green, organics cart, Newman said.

“Okay, so I will continue to win that argument in my household then,” Nirenberg said.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org