Victoria's recycling success a result of early learning

Sara  Sneath By Sara Sneath

Dec. 25, 2013 at 6:25 a.m.
Updated Dec. 26, 2013 at 6:26 a.m.

Kurtis Westbrook, 48, prepares to enter his recycling truck before continuing his route through a neighborhood to pick up remaining bins.

Kurtis Westbrook, 48, prepares to enter his recycling truck before continuing his route through a neighborhood to pick up remaining bins.

Kurtis Westbrook began driving Victoria's only MAC automated single-operator recycling truck in February 2012, when the recycling program started.

In the beginning, Westbrook worked 12-hour days with the MAC truck, which he jokingly calls "bulldog." A hood ornament of a sitting silver-colored bulldog brands the truck with its nickname.

"The truck is nice and comfortable," Westbrook said.

After almost two years, the city's curbside recycling program has been more successful than initially thought. The city credits students learning about recycling at an early age as part of the success.

Environmental Services bought one truck and hired one driver, estimating the recycling participation rate would be 40 percent, said Breanna Plunkett, Victoria environmental services education specialist.

But the office soon realized residents of Victoria were bigger fans of recycling than expected. The recycling participation rate is at 70 percent and has reached into the 80 percent range in the past, Plunkett said.

She said the participation rate is gauged by the number of households with curbside recycling available that place their 96-gallon containers out on recycling day.

With its success, a second truck was needed, but Victoria's environmental services office was not ready to buy another $180,000 truck, Plunkett said. Instead, it asked Waste Management for help.

Plunkett said trucks owned by Waste Management now help Westbrook with his routes, allowing him to work eight-hour days, five days a week. It takes Westbrook two weeks to pick up the city's residential recycling, servicing about 2,000 homes per day, Plunkett said.

She believes recycling participation in Victoria is high because children grow up learning to recycle in school. The Victoria Kids Recycling program, a paper-recycling program for all elementary schools in the Victoria Independent School District, started in 2007. Students in the Victoria school district are flexing their recycling muscles this year as they participate in Dream Machine Recycle Rally, an annual recycling contest for schools across the nation sponsored by PepsiCo.

Gage Debord, 7, of Victoria, is a student at Torres Elementary School, which is in second place in the annual contest for schools with 401 to 650 students.

Gage said he gets a sticker of a raccoon wearing a green shirt for recycling. So far, he has received six stickers.

But he doesn't just recycle for the stickers. Gage said he recycles "for the animals."

Kecia Garcia, an art teacher at Torres Elementary School, said the rally has created such excitement about recycling that neighborhoods without curbside service are getting involved.

About six Torres fifth-graders from the rural Brentwood subdivision have teamed up to form the "Brentwood Green Team." The kids collect recycling from their neighborhood Thursdays and sort it at Garcia's house, she said. Garcia then brings the recycling into the school to be weighed for the competition.

Waste Management picks up all the school and commercial recycling Fridays, Plunkett said. Recycling from schools and commercial containers go to the same Victoria facility as residential recycling, where it is compacted into 40-yard containers and driven to Houston on the back of 10-wheel roll-off trucks.

The Victoria facility's compactor crunches a volume of recycled material down to one-third its size for the container, she said.

Gilbert Munoz, who packs the recycling materials into the large containers, said he loads about four containers every day.

"When it's a good day, we load six," he said.

About one truck makes the trip to a material recovery facility every day, said Chuck Schulze, the lead driver for Victoria's Waste Management. He said most of the city's recycled material goes to the facility on Gasmer Drive in Houston, but it is sometimes sent to a facility in San Antonio.

At the material recovery facility, Victoria's recycling is sorted by a machine, Schulze said. It is then moved to individual sites where it is further sorted, bailed and sent to facilities where the material will be reprocessed to be recycled, he said.

Nicole Cano, 35, of Victoria, said she sets aside her plastic bottles and aluminum cans for her nephew, Troy Smith, who is a second-grader at Torres Elementary, so he can take them to school for the recycling rally.

Cano said the doctor's office where she works is also involved in the competition. The women there set aside their recyclables to give to Troy once a week, she said.

"It's not just a contest, Cano said. "It's helping the environment."

Cano said her nephew's feelings about recycling have rubbed off on her.

"If he's excited about it, I want to be excited about it as well," she said.

Correction: City of Victoria’s solid waste trucks pick up residential recycling once the drivers complete the garbage route. The recyclables are taken to Victoria Recycling Center. Waste Management only picks up commercial recycling and trash.



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