On July 10, the City of Houston accepted proposals from five companies for the
"One Bin for All" trash proposal and stated that a contract decision would be
proposed by the end of this year. At the same time, the Zero Waste Houston
coalition released a report that is available on zerowastehouston.org entitled,
"It's Smarter to Separate: How Houston's Trash Proposal Would Waste Our Resources,
Pollute Our Air and Harm Our Community's Health."
As the City of Houston struggles to close a projected $150 million budget gap
next year, our report suggests that "One Bin for All" would be a financial burden
for the City of Houston and an abuse of our limited funds for public services. And
it wouldn't even work: our report shows that no "mixed waste processing facility"
of this kind has ever achieved anything close to what our recycling goals are here
in Houston--to the contrary, most have been outright disasters. Not only that,
but it is now abundantly clear that whatever materials cannot be recycled through
such a plan would end up in a dirty, polluting trash incineration facility of some
kind, in the misleading name of "renewable energy."
Fortunately, the Solid Waste Management Department under the direction of Harry
Hayes has been doing amazing work expanding the big, green recycling bins to
more neighborhoods in the City. In June they announced another expansion to 62,000
homes. Director Hayes has done such a good job increasing the efficiencies of our
trash and recycling services that he has been promoted to Chief Operating Officer.
We applaud and praise the Mayor for her commitment to expand single-stream
recycling to every home in the City by the end of her term. But with all the
amazing progress we are making in recycling, why throw it away on unproven
technologies like "one bin for all" systems and trash gasification that would
pollute our air and waste our resources?
The City has appointed an advisory committee to review the five proposals that
were submitted. As our report shows, these proposals will likely be bad for
recycling, for the environment, for public health and workers' rights. We hope
the advisory committee will be able to examine alternative programs that other
cities are currently using to reduce waste, fight pollution and create more jobs
in the recycling industry.
The City of Austin, for example, recently won $1 million grant to build an
Eco-Industrial park to attract small businesses that manufacture recycled products.
While the Eco-Industrial Park is expected to create thousands of jobs in new,
sustainable industries, Houston's $1 million grant for "One Bin for All" would be
expected to create only 100 jobs, many of these consisting of picking through trash
and recycling by hand. This isn't "innovative" or a "technological breakthrough."
Environmental justice groups and recycling advocates from across the country
are watching Houston very closely to see how this bad proposal plays out.
I recommend visiting Dr. Robert Bullard's blog at drrobertbullard.com for his
views on the environmental justice concerns many have with "One Bin for All," which
have been covered also by national media outlets such as Grist.org, Triple Pundit
and the City Lab blog from The Atlantic (these articles are reachable from
This month, Dr. Bullard and environmental icon Lois Gibbs were keynote
speakers at the August 2nd "Waste and Environmental Justice" summit sponsored
by the Zero Waste Houston coalition and Texas Southern University. Bradley Angel,
executive director of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice in
San Francisco, also spoke about the dangers of trash gasification and the
proliferation of incineration proposals selling themselves as "renewable
energy projects." Monica Wilson with the Global Alliance of Incinerator
Alternatives (GAIA) sent a video presentation for the event about Zero Waste
Solutions and all of these presentations will be viewable online.
The City is expected to decide on one of the five bids by the end of the year
and come to a decision whether or not to vote on a long-term contract. Our hope
is that there will not be a vote, and if there is, that the City Council will
stand up to Mayor Parker and vote against this wrong-headed plan. The Zero Waste
Houston coalition is working to build on our existing recycling programs instead
and continue expanding the "big, green bins." Zero Waste means achieving the
highest and best use for materials, reducing waste and committing to
environmental justice. Houston ought to write a long-term resource recovery
plan that seeks to achieve these goals, including comprehensive recycling and
composting for every residence and business, with genuine public input from
diverse groups throughout the community.