Greater HoustonImproving Local Recycling
The City of Houston is currently considering a new program called "One Bin for All" Recycling bins would be taken away from those who have them. All discards would be put in one bin and then sorted mechanically at a “Dirty MRF” (Materials Recovery Facility). The biggest problem is, these facilities do not work. In addition, the Dirty MRF would cost an estimated $100 to $150 million to build. That’s about 10 times more than what it would cost to expand the current program to everyone serviced by the city.
There are a many problems associated with these facilities and previous dirty MRF's built in other US cities have been abandoned due to poor performance. Contamination of recyclables is the primary reason why these facilities to live up to expectations.
Who has love for Houston's proposed dirty MRF?
Should Houston trash plans for "One Bin for All" waste collection?
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Houston Activists Say New Recycling System is Not the Way to Go
Recycling plan a million-dollar idea: Mayor collects big check for city's 'one bin for all' proposal to boost participation, reduce emissions
Imagine: it's Sunday morning, you wake up and put on a pot of coffee. You sit down at the kitchen table, drink your coffee, and read the Metro section. You finish reading your paper and instead of putting in the bin for recyclables, your city has this new program where you can put recyclables and nonrecyclables in the same bin, so you place your morning paper in that new one bin. You then remember that you need to throw out your coffee grounds from the pot of coffee you made that morning. So you remove the filter from your coffee pot, with the coffee grounds, and toss it into your one bin. Because of this system, the newsprint, that is ordinarily a high value commodity, is now soiled and the value of that commodity has been substantially reduced. With few, if any, end markets willing to buy soiled newsprint you either sell it and get very little economic benefit or you landfill it and in many cases, the only option is the landfill.
Dirty MRF's also have labor issues. Jobs in the recycling and waste industry are already some of the most dangerous jobs in the US. There are many health and safety hazards when mixing recycables. Those hazards are compounded when workers have to sort recyclables from nonrecyclables. All kinds of things end up in our waste bins: needles, mercury-containing light bulbs, leaking batteries, bodily fluids and solids (especially from diapers), and many other hazardous wastes.
Dirty MRF’s are often used to provide waste to be used in waste-to-energy technologies, and Houston’s plan is no different. The City of Houston is planning to include waste-to-energy conversion. These technologies often use a thermal component which heat up waste to high temperatures or, as is commonly done in Europe, produce Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF). RDF is then outright burned for energy. Both processes contribute to air pollution and the heating and burning of waste creates dioxins and furans which are highly toxic and cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system, interfere with hormones, and cause cancer.
Dirty MRF's smell bad, lower property values, and disproportionately impact those living next to them. The City of Houston is proposing to locate their Dirty MRF at a landfill, signaling that they are aware the high volumes of waste that will still need to be landfilled. Houston's landfills are already sited in high pollution areas and by putting a dirty MRF and Waste-to-Energy facilities near existing landfills, these communities will face increased risks to health.
Lastly, Dirty MRF’s and waste-to-energy facilities not only prevent the best use of these commodities (reuse, recycling, and composting) but encourage increased wasting. These facilities require high volumes of waste to make them profitable thus discouraging any attempt to reduce the amount we waste, which should be at the forefront of any waste plan.
We all know that Houston's recycling rate of 14% is abysmal-- one of the lowest in the country. Currently, only about 25% of Houston residents have access recycling programs. But "One Bin for All" is not the solution. The solution starts with Houston officials setting a goal of providing real (two-cart; one for recyclables and one for non-recyclables) curbside recycling for every single-family home in Houston and making it a priority. When the city is providing it for the residents it services, it can also require it for apartments, condos, homeowner associations, office buildings and institutions too.
Real recycling of our resources creates at least ten times as many jobs as dumping our waste in landfills. Waste and landfills contribute to climate change, as it takes much more energy to create products from virgin materials than from recycled feedstock.
TCE believes that the long-term solution to Houston's waste problem should be a "Zero Waste"plan. While the goal is zero, the idea is to divert at least 90% of waste from our landfills. The City of Austin became the first in Texas do adopt a Zero Waste goal, and, recently, Dallas did so too. Houston should follow suit!
In the meantime, click here to email Mayor Parker and the city council to tell them that you want real (two-cart) curbside recycling, not the costly "One Bin for All" scheme that will not work.
And, 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.