The State of Recycling in Texas

Released by: Environment Texas Research & Policy Center

Recycling rates in Texas reveal one of the more wasteful states in the nation. At 23 percent, the statewide rate falls almost twelve points below the national average 34.7 percent. Based on the most recent available data, only two of Texas’s major cities, Austin and Plano, exceed the national average. The table below shows how the top nine most populous cities stack up:

It’s time for Texas to catch up with the rest of the nation in waste reduction. In 1991, the state legislature set a goal to achieve a 40 percent rate, but never specified a timeline and failed to outline a clear plan. Thankfully, there are several actions that can help Texas achieve its original goal, outlined in this report.

Recent international trade disputes have opened a new window of opportunity for recycling and economic development. For decades, cities throughout the United States sent millions of tons of scrap material to China to be recycled. This past year, China effectively stopped accepting our refuse, claiming it was too contaminated and unsellable for recycling. With nowhere to go, recyclables have been piling up in sorting facilities throughout Texas and many other states. This disruption has increased service costs, decreased revenue, and in some cases led recycling collectors to stop their services.

As the saying goes, change brings opportunity. Recycling has proven to bring economic benefits in Texas through the creation of 17,000 jobs and adding more than $3 billion to the state economy in a year. In the wake of China’s policy changes, Texas has an opportunity to further develop its recycling economy through expanded collection, sorting, and end-market solutions.