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Houston Regional Group - News

In recent months the City of Houston has put forward a proposal called "One Bin for All" that would address recycling by harvesting recyclables directly from general trash collections. The City hasn't explained in detail all the components of what they may have in mind, but there has been mention of composting and waste to energy programs. The City also hasn't really explained why they have chosen to pursue this particular approach, when reportedly the single stream recycling initiated a few years ago in parts of the City has been working very well.

The City managed to get a runner up prize of $1M dollars from the Bloomberg Philanthropies' Mayors Challenge, and we assume this money will be used to further develop the "One Bin" processing approach. But this type of processing facility is expected to cost as much as $100 million or more. And there may be limits to what percentage of materials can be successfully recycled with this approach.

Here, to inform you about some of our concerns about this issue, are comments by Frank Blake (these have also appeared in the blog Off the Kuff by Charles Kuffner here:

Concerns about the "One Bin for All" program

  1. The proposal claims that it will reduce air pollution by reducing truck routes, but it is not clear how truck travel would be significantly reduced since the overall volume of material to be transported would be the same. (50 truck loads of trash and 50 truck loads of recycling are still 100 truck loads if you combine it all; and since trash trucks fill up fairly quickly, there wouldn't be much reduction in travel miles)
  2. Since this'innovative' method has not been tested on a large scale, and involves multiple technologies, is it really more cost effective than other existing methods? The costs to develop 'innovative' technological approaches often exceed estimates.
  3. And does the 'One Bin' collection method just shift certain processing costs down the line to other stages? Or result in reduced market value of recycled materials (because of material contamination)?
  4. Initial source separation enhances the market value of certain recyclables - e.g., paper and cardboard. Paper products co-mingled with other trash and food waste would have significantly reduced value, and limited recycling options. For recycling paper products efficiently, don't mix them with food waste and other contaminants.
  5. Composting is mentioned as a component of the 'One Bin for All' program. But how is it possible to maintain quality control for compost generated from general trash collections? General trash would include everything from broken glass, fluorescent lights (with mercury), pharmaceuticals, and a variety of hazardous substances. What could such compost be used for? (Note: both Austin and San Antonio have initiated pilot curbside compost collections - i.e., compost materials are collected separately from general trash and recyclables).
  6. What 'waste to fuel' technologies would be involved? The use of municipal waste as fuel can present problems because of the possible inclusion of contaminants and hazardous wastes. Where would such 'waste to fuel' facilities be located? Would the public be involved in any 'waste to fuel' decisions?
  7. Other cities, including Dallas and Austin have adopted zero waste plans, with goals to reduce waste going to landfills by 90% and more. Houston has not yet adopted a long range plan or goals. Would adoption of a "One Bin for All" program with expensive processing facilities limit future options in Houston? What if there is a ceiling on the effective recycling rates that this method can accomplish? (and there is concern that the claimed "up to 70% rate" is overly optimistic).
  8. How does a "One Bin for All" program really discourage waste, or encourage more 'sustainable,' lower CO2 emitting lifestyles? It seems to do the opposite in ways, by sending a message to the public that it doesn't matter what they discard, and that they don't need to be conscious of recycling (if recycling is perceived as difficult in some quarters, it is, in part, because the City of Houston has invested very little in public education over the years, and has had different recycling programs or lack of programs in different parts of the City).
  9. I am concerned and puzzled that the City of Houston would roll out this type of comprehensive proposal without more consultation, input and involvement with the public, and recycling and environmental advocates.

Last updated:  04/01/2013.   Content 1999-2011 by the Sierra Club.