Houston Activists Say New Recycling System Is Not The Way To Go

Houston Press
Vanessa Piña
Original article here

A day after Mayor Annise Parker jubilantly announced the city had won $1 million by being a finalist in a municipal-improvements contest, experts held a press conference to say the city’s winning “One Bin for All” recycling project is bad for the environment.

Experts like Tyson Sowell of the Texas Campaign for the Environment and Dr. Robert Bullard, Dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University, said people want to recycle and are interested in the concept, but having a new system that does not assure a positive outcome is not the way to go.

The One Bin for All system calls for residents to throw all their garbage into a single bin that will be sorted at a still-to-be-built facility that critics say will cost $100 million. Supporters of the idea say it increases recycling because it’s not dependent on residents separating out bottles, plastic and paper from their other garbage. But opponents say such facilities have failed in other cities and have not proven able to produce quality recyclable material.

“For someone who has done research and written more than 18 books on this stuff it is rather odd that we would be opting for an unproven, risky idea,” Bullard said at the press conference.

Yes, this new system will attempt to increase recyclables in the city, they said, but with that comes along a risk, like financing.

“It is being represented that this system will never cost taxpayers any money, because a private entity will come forward to finance a facility estimated to cost $100 million,” said activist Leo Gold.

Said Gold:

The single stream system that Mayor White initiated has none of those risks. There is a successful partnership between the city and waste management, and material is daily being handled. Waste Management’s single stream sorting facilities are running at an estimated 50 percent of capacity and can easily handle more if the city will only provide more carts to our citizens.

Parker, of course, disagrees with the critics. In accepting the award this week she said “One Bin for All is a first-of-its kind innovation that will revolutionize the way we handle trash, achieving high-volume recycling and waste diversion, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and lower operating costs….I know this cutting-edge technology has the potential to improve health and quality of life not only in Houston, but around the world.”

The contest was created by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who obviously is also a fan on the One Bin idea. “”Recycling has often been treated as an individual responsibility, like paying taxes,” he said at the award ceremony. “But Mayor Parker’s innovative One Bin for All idea turns that notion on its head. Achieving a 75 percent recycling recovery rate in Houston would represent a huge leap forward in urban sustainability practices.”

Recycling plan a million-dollar idea

Mayor collects big check for city’s ‘one bin for all’ proposal to boost participation, reduce emissions

Houston Chronicle

Mike Morris

Original article here

Houston’s plan to increase its dismal recycling rate fivefold got a boost Wednesday, when Mayor Annise Parker accepted a $1 million prize from Bloomberg Philanthropies as part of the Mayors Challenge, a contest rewarding innovation in American cities.

The city’s “One Bin for All” idea would allow residents to mix trash, recyclables, yard clippings, food and other waste in a single container, to be automatically sorted at a first-of-its-kind $100 million plant to be built and run by a private firm. The city plans next month to issue a request for proposals from companies interested in the plan, with construction starting as early as next year.

“Even with extensive education, easily available single-stream and in cities where you actually have an economic incentive — which we do not since we don’t charge separately for garbage — you don’t achieve the recycling rates that would be available under this technology,” Parker said. “And those of us who care about recycling have had the dilemma: You’re standing with something in your hand and you’re looking, ‘Do I put it in the bin that says recycling, the bin that says compost, or the bin that says garbage?’ This takes that decision away and automates it.”

If all goes according to plan, in two years the city’s household recycling rate could jump from 14 percent to as much as 75 percent. Instead of sending four rounds of trucks door to door retrieving trash, recycling, yard waste and heavy trash, Houston may send one — cutting vehicle emissions, miles on the fleet and strain on city roads, not to mention operating costs and $13 million in annual landfill fees.

It would be a dramatic shift for a city in which a third of households cannot even recycle at the curb today, with another third unable to recycle glass curbside. Just a third of residents have single-stream, the green 96-gallon bins that take all recyclables.

Houston aims to accomplish this turnaround without any added cost to residents or the city.

The technologies to sort and process the materials are proven, said city sustainability director Laura Spanjian. Companies will be willing to build and operate such a plant, she said, because they’ll have a contract giving them the right to resell up to three-quarters of all waste generated by the nation’s fourth-largest city.

Tyson Sowell of Texas Campaign for the Environment, however, called the idea “anti-recycling” and a “pipe dream.” His group thinks the city will ultimately have to invest in the plant, and believes the technologies are unproven. Single-stream, composting and other such methods work, he said.

Spanjian said the one-bin plan is supported by the Environmental Defense Fund, Clinton Climate Initiative, Keep Houston Beautiful and other environmental groups.

Drew Sones, who retired a decade ago from running Los Angeles’ solid waste operations, said new sorting technology is already working. Houston’s proposal, he said, “has all the components that are being used today. It’s not like a black box: ‘Trust us, we can do this.’”

Sones set up Los Angeles’ current residential recycling system, with black bins for trash, blue for recycling and green for yard waste. If he had his old job today, Sones said, he would use Houston’s approach. “People don’t recycle everything or don’t recycle at all, don’t participate,” he said. “Even if you’ve got a three-can system, it’s worth it to take that black bin through the process.”

It’s not clear what proposals Houston will receive, but one option could see biomass — yard and food waste, even clothing and plastics — converted into biofuels through a process such as that used by CRI Catalyst Company, a Houston subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell whose Alan Del Paggio has been in talks with city officials.

“We’re well on our way to demonstrate to the world that this is not just wishful thinking but, in fact, this is technical reality and economic reality,” he said.

About the award

Mayor Annise Parker said the $1 million prize from Bloomberg Philanthropies won by the city for its “One Bin for All” recycling plan will cover start-up costs such as a project manager and an analysis of the city’s waste, to better understand what materials the plant would process. Houston’s award was one of four runner-up prizes in the contest; Chicago, Philadelphia, and Santa Monica, Calif., were the others; Providence, R.I., won the $5 million grand prize. Houston also will get $50,000 for netting more than 15,000 online votes to win the “fan favorite” part of the contest.

Trinity East Energy threatens to sue environmentalists over statements about failed well casing in Irving

Dallas Morning News
Rudolph Bush

The energy company at the center of Dallas’ gas drilling debate has threatened a Texas environmental group with a lawsuit over statements about a well-casing failure in Irving.

An attorney for Trinity East Energy sent the letter in late February to Zac Trahan at the Texas Campaign for the Environment, claiming Trahan made “verifiably false accusations” about the well-casing failure that Randy Lee Loftis documented earlier this month.

“Texas Campaign for the Environment (“TCE”) is behind much of the opposition to drilling in the City of Dallas,” states the letter from attorney Michael D. Anderson. “In that regard, TCE has disseminated many baseless and groundless attacks with the singular purpose of denying Trinity East’s right to drill.”

But the campaign reached a “new low” when Trahan suggested publicly that the well-casing failure “may have contaminated underground water aquifers,” the letter states.

Trahan responded today in a letter defending his statements and letting Trinity East know that TCE will neither cease nor desist.

“It is, by now, well-known that the purpose of casing a well is to protect groundwater,” Trahan wrote. “Thus, when a casing failure occurs, it is not unreasonable to question whether this casing failure has placed groundwater at risk for contamination.”

According to Randy’s report from public documents, the casing failed at a depth of 2,800 feet. Groundwater extended down to about 2,150 feet at the site, according to state analysis. Public documents did not indicate whether there was any groundwater contamination.

But as Trahan points out in his letter, there is sparse information from Trinity East or the state Railroad Commission detailing the impact of the company’s casing failure near the University of Dallas.

“If such analysis has been conducted, TCE welcomes the opportunity to review the results and report on them,” Trahan writes.

Anderson’s letter states flatly that there could not have been aquifer contamination at the site of the casing failure because the “surface casing was set and cemented at required depths…to protect all fresh water aquifers.”

Gas wells use several casings in the drilling and extraction process, and it’s not entirely clear which casing failed in this instance. I reached Anderson this morning and he said he would contact his clients before commenting.

In Trahan’s letter, issued today, he said the campaign won’t be “deterred by the bullying tactics of Trinity East or others.” But he did offer Trinity East this concession.

“Nevertheless, in order to avoid any confusion, TCE is willing to issue the following supplemental information,” he wrote.

“This gas company has already drilled a well along the Trinity River that had a casing failure beneath our underground aquifers. The company reported that no groundwater contamination occurred as a result in this instance. No independent testing was required to verify whether our aquifers are fully protected.”