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ZERO WASTE OR ONE BIN?

By Melanie Scruggs


Separate

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 ZeroWasteHouston.org).

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.


Last updated:  08/01/2014   Content 2014 by the Sierra Club.