City mulls closing recycling center

HARLINGEN — City officials are considering options to help residents reprocess materials if they close the recycling center.

In a 90-minute workshop Tuesday, City Manager Dan Serna proposed collecting materials in bins located at the recycling center and the old city landfill before transporting them to McAllen’s recycling center.

As part of the plan, the city would budget $90,000 to fund operations, he said.

In March, the city temporarily closed the Harlingen Recycling Center amid concerns employees could be exposed to materials contaminated with the coronavirus.

“These products are handled by hand by several employees,” Serna told a small group of residents during a workshop. “It gets all over you. Where (products) originate, we don’t know.”

During the workshop, city commissioners also considered options including charging households $1.50 a month to help fund recycling operations and hiring a private company, a move which would spur a monthly household charge of about $16.

Mayor Chris Boswell proposed calling a special meeting to further discuss options.

Changing industry

About two years ago, much of the recycling industry collapsed after China stopped importing materials, leading to plummeting costs on the commodities market, officials told residents.

Before it stopped its importation, China was burning unclean materials or dumping it in the ocean, Boswell said.

“We’ve been contributing to a global problem,” Boswell, who recycles material, told residents. “There are a lot of unintended consequences in recycling.”

High operational costs

In the last few years, the city’s annual operational costs have climbed from about $323,000 to $430,000 while revenue derived from the sale of recycled products has plunged from about $111,000 to $25,000, Assistant City Manager Carlos Sanchez told residents during a PowerPoint presentation.

“China stopped importing recycled material — that put a big grind into the recycling industry,” Sanchez said. “It was not cost-effective.”

Now, the recycling center generates 1.3 percent of the total amount of city waste transferred to the Edinburg landfill.

“Participation rates and recycling is something we’ve grappled with not unlike other cities,” Sanchez said.

Residents’ input

Across town, the proposal to close the recycling center led residents to send 241 written comments to City Hall.

From the podium, resident Christy Tovar requested officials become “creative” in recycling.

“The question is, is there political will?” she asked. “So we can close the recycling center and wait around for somebody else to think of a solution, or we can start getting innovative.”

Resident Brianna Vela Garza said the city’s program has led schools to teach students about the importance of recycling.

“The education piece is very crucial,” she told commissioners. “Students are taking those educational pieces home.”