Presidio City Council talks cost-saving measures for the recycling center

PRESIDIO — At Tuesday night’s meeting, the Presidio City Council discussed cost-cutting measures at the city’s recycling center. With next year’s budget cycle already looming, city leaders explored the possibility of partnering with Permian Basin recycling company BRI instead of entrusting most of the materials to TDS (Texas Disposal Systems).

While all present considered the program a success, it does carry a hefty price tag: the city leases its compactor from TDS for about $350 a month. The company then charges an additional $1,500 to empty the machine, which typically happens twice a year. “It’s my concern that if it’s costing that much, we were going to have to shut [the recycling center] down,” said Elvira Hermosillo, who originally started the city’s recycling program in 2012.

Hermosillo was right to worry. In the fall of 2021, former City Administrator Brad Newton asked the city council to dismantle the recycling program to cut costs. Presidio ISD students mobilized in protest and offered to take over the program on a volunteer basis.

The compactor — which Presidians can fill with their plastics, aluminum and paper — is just one of two machines at the volunteer-led facility, which opened in the spring of 2022. The other is a cardboard baler that was purchased originally on a grant for the school district, but now serves the whole community. Baling cardboard makes it more compact and easier to transport.

Hermosillo said that cardboard disposal is a significant issue for local businesses. Stores like Dollar General, DY and Lowe’s generate a large amount of cardboard waste every day — much of which ends up in the city’s landfill. The bundles are also worth some cash — a ton of recycled cardboard is worth around $80, a modest sum that Hermosillo explained could be re-invested into the center’s costs. However, there are currently no buyers for the city’s baled cardboard, which is slowly stacking up in a warehouse in the Presidio Stockyards.

BRI — the San Angelo-based recycling company that had offered Hermosillo a potential plan for collaboration — said it would be happy to help the city find cardboard buyers. If the city were to have its recycling picked up by BRI, the city would receive a portion of cardboard sales. The company can also offer rebates for #1 plastics, colored plastics, newsprint, mixed paper, aluminum and electronic motors — none of which the Presidio Recycling Center has been selling.

The collaboration between BRI and the City of Presidio will not be a formal contract like the company carries out with larger cities in the Permian Basin. Instead, the Presidio Recycling Center will be treated like another stop on BRI’s route — when the company has to pick up recycling in the area, Presidio can be added to the route for $500 each visit.

While no firm estimates have been developed yet for how much working with BRI could save the city, reduced monthly costs and potential cash from recycling sales indicate it would be a better deal for the city. The collaboration also could expand the range of materials the recycling center is able to accept, but the BRI system would require a different approach from the TDS compactor. Currently, Presidians who want to recycle only need to separate cardboard from their plastics, tin and paper. To take advantage of the new system, materials would have to be more carefully sorted.

Cities served by BRI elsewhere have also had issues with contamination, meaning that non-recyclable trash was added to the load — because Presidio’s recycling center isn’t self-serve, there’s less room for error, but it’s an issue that will take special attention and dedication to prevent.

Though Hermosillo said that these issues would need to be ironed out before committing to the program, Presidio Mayor John Ferguson — a recycling center volunteer himself — wanted to see the new recycling collaboration roll out on a three-month timeline. “I’m hoping we’ll just continue doing this and get better at it,” he said.