Greater HoustonProtecting Curbside Recycling: Stopping "One Bin"
Today, more Americans say they recycle than vote. All of Texas' largest cities provide recycling to all of their city waste customers--except Houston, which offers recycling to only about half the residents served by the Solid Waste Department. Valuable recyclable commodities which could be collected and sold are instead being buried in ever-growing landfills, costing Houston jobs and wasting finite resources. This is unsustainable and short-sighted.
Will Houston Abandon Curbside Recycling?
Residents have urged the City for many years to extend real recycling to everyone in Houston, but the City has refused to invest the estimated $17 million this would cost. Instead, City officials want to eliminate curbside recycling altogether and invest tax dollars in what is known as a "dirty MRF" (Materials Recovery Facility), a $100+ million facility to supposedly separate out recyclables from garbage. The City would tell residents to throw all their garbage and recycling into "One Bin for All." This would be a huge step in the wrong direction.
This is NOT "single-stream" recycling where residents can throw all of their glass, plastic, aluminum, paper, cardboard, etc. into the same green bin while throwing their trash into the black bin. Single-stream has been a success for the communities lucky enough to have it. Houston should extend this service to all its residents, not take it away.
Mixing garbage in with recyclables on purpose is a bad idea, which is why communities have been collecting recycling separately for decades. Putting food and other messy wastes on paper, cardboard and other recyclables makes those materials less valuable in the marketplace. Other cities have attempted to build similar facilities to let machines sort out the garbage, and it hasn't proven successful.
Incineration and Injustice
City officials claim that other facilities have worked, but these facilities have relied on waste incineration. City officials say that there will be no "combustion" associated with this facility, but they then call for trash "gasification" and "catalytic conversion." These technologies have been called "incinerators in disguise" by international waste reduction advocates, and are defined as incineration by the US EPA. They have been responsible for major pollution problems in the communities which have tried them. The last thing Houston needs is to turn our trash into air pollution!
The real secret to these facilities in the past has been low wage labor. Workers with little to no job security have to pick through hazardous waste, are exposed to dangerous conditions, terrible smells and other harms. The City has also suggested that the facility be located at an existing waste disposal site, all of which are in predominantly minority and low income communities. Concentrating all of the City's waste collection in one site also poses significant local problems in terms of smell, noise, congestion, vehicle emissions and litter. Real recycling creates good jobs and benefits communities; the City's dirty MRF scheme will threaten the air, water, land, health and safety of Houston residents across the city. Contact your City officials today and demand a better solution!
Incineration is always the Wrong Choice
Incinerating waste, including gasification and catalytic conversion schemes, produces dioxins, furans and other Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) which cause birth defects, hormonal disruptions and cancer. Incineration also competes with recycling for materials, which means we recycle less and extract more and more raw materials. Incineration eliminates incentives towards waste reduction and reuse, and is almost always much more expensive than reduction and recycling. Finally, recycling saves 3-5 times the energy that incineration produces. "One Bin for All" is a scheme to bring waste incineration to Houston; tell the City Council to say NO today!
The Solution: Zero Waste
No single technology or facility can solve Houston's waste and recycling challenges. Communities and businesses around the world have adopted "Zero Waste" policies which combine waste reduction, product redesign, recycling, composting and other policies to divert materials away from landfills, abolish trash incineration, create jobs and protect the environment. Our goal is to reduce waste by 90% overall in the long-run. Several US cities have already reached 70% or 80%--so can Houston!
The Right to Recycle
The first step is for the City of Houston to extend real curbside recycling to every home in the city. They say that they are "beseiged" with requests for more recycling, so they know residents want this to happen. With the current proposal private customers will face pressure to eliminate or prevent recycling so the "dirty MRF" can get enough incoming trash to make money. Every community deserves recycling, and a Zero Waste plan would include a plan to get us there.
Not only that, but other Zero Waste plans have provided for ordinances which ensure recycling is available at all workplaces, apartment complexes and public places. Zero Waste means recycling will be easy at home, work and play.
Job Creation and Economic Development
Zero Waste isn't just good for the environment, it is powerful for the economy. Throwing away 10,000 tons of trash (about what Houston throws away every two days) creates one job at a landfill, but would create 10 jobs in recycling and up to 296 jobs in material reuse! Other cities are developing eco-industrial parks with good re-manufacturing jobs fueled by strong collections.
Dallas and Austin have already passed Zero Waste plans, San Antonio has passed a "Pathway to Zero Waste" plan and Fort Worth is currently considering their own long-term plan. Now is time for Houston to move forward and develop a real strategy for conserving our resources.
If you don't have curbside recycling and are looking for a way to recycle at home, please see this list of recycling centers near you.