Leadership for Today's Environment

Taken from the keynote speech given by Tommy Adkisson,
Bexar County Commissioner, Precinct Four
to keep San Antonio Beautiful


The famous American Revolutionary War pamphleteer Thomas Paine said that "A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first, a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason." And so it is that we often see others or find ourselves conveniently throwing away recyclables or burying them in the ground by treating them as trash.

Some cities have trash barges; we in Bexar County simply have ever-growing and never-ending landfills. Some 20 years ago, I received my "baptism by protest" into the role of landfill fighter. Despite the valiant efforts, after each of these efforts there was no follow through to a lasting solution. As a result, we are little better off today in 2000 than we were in 1980.

With leadership however, we can and will change this.

  1. Where are we with respect to recycling in our community?
  2. It is not uncommon to see friends not recycling or to see recyclables placed in "trash bins". This wastes a resource, the recyclable itself and reduces the value of the land and the surrounding area of where it will be buried. Also, the cost of dumping all or most of our waste stream into the landfill is high indeed.

    Recently, the Franklin Study, perhaps one of the better analyses in the area of solid waste, estimated that about 80% of our national wastestream is recyclable.

    Yet, in the recent Waste Age Survey, the City of San Antonio is shown to be recycling at the rate of 30%! The 1997 Texas Natural Resource and Conservation Commission (TNRCC) Survey gives the Texas rate at 35% and the United States average rate according to the Waste Policy Center is 28.8%. Unless we change our ways, we will continue the bad habit of landfilling for far too long into the future and, at great expense.

    Ways we can increase our recycling rate

    • Place our junk mail in with our newspapers and cereal boxes at the curb.
    • Compost! One need only look at the staggering number of bags of yard clippings we all generate to appreciate how the failure to compost must be having a devastating impact on the demand for our landfills!
    • Recycle at major events like NIOSA, the Poteet Strawberry Festival, and the many, many events that we stage here in Party City, USA.
    • Recycle at apartments.
    • Recycle construction and demolition debris.
    • Recycle in offices. Use our very own USAA as the model.
    • Initiate a campaign to promote recycling in buildings.
    • Enhance awareness of the benefits of recycling.
    • Measure what gets done. Without debating this issue into eternity, we need to develop generally agreed-upon measures of recycling success. For instance, the City of San Antonio collected 39,456 tons of recyclables in 1999 from a total of 288,709 households.

  3. Where do we need to go?
  4. Developing markets appears to be our greatest challenge! There is no telling how much of a depressing effect the failure to develop markets has had on the will to recycle.

    It is estimated that more recyclables are being landfilled than we would like. The standard rationale for this is that there simply are no markets.

    So why would anyone recommend the collection of more recyclables if there are no markets? This is precisely the question San Antonio and Bexar County need to answer.

  5. How do we get there?
    1. Educate about recycling benefits, landfill operations and costs, comparative rates of recycling, green purchasing, etc. for the United States, Texas & San Antonio. Remember: Education is the guardian genius of democracy.
      1. Conduct a Recycling Market Solutions Summit sponsored by the Alamo Area Council of Governments, Keep San Antonio Beautiful, Beautify San Antonio, the Martinez Environmental Group (MEG), any and all land-fillers, and other interested parties on all sides of the landfill issue in Bexar County.
      2. I propose that A & M University at Palo Alto or the Brooks AFB Lab (through its R & D program) incorporate a course of study along the lines of "Resource Recovery & Market Applications" We must make common sense as well as economic sense!
    2. Measure and Report Progress in All its Forms! And remember: What gets measured gets done!
      1. Develop a Recycling Scorecard for Bexar County
      2. Track the percent recycled by cities, the county, school districts, special districts and other areas of the community.
      3. Determine and understand the net cost/revenue from recycling (as affected by methodologies that determine the market value of the recyclables)
      4. Initiate and maintain green purchasing policies: emphasize participation criteria for closing the recycling loop of reducing, reusing and recycling.

James McGregor Burns in his book entitled "Leadership", contrasted transactional from transforming leadership. Transactional leadership appeared to be the caretaker kind of leadership while transforming leadership made fundamental or structural changes in the system. While time is left to make a big difference, I invite each and every one of you to join with me to make a departure from our past and yes, even present wasteful habits. Our American spirit provides the foundation for change to occur. Our children, and our future, depend on it.

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