It has been almost three years since the city won a $1 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies for the One Bin For All concept, which would let Houstonians throw all their waste in one bin, to be separated for recycling later.
Former Mayor Annise Parker tried to start the project, but it never took off under her watch.
It only says that contract negotiations for a sorting facility are ongoing and that there is currently a proposal on the table that would be privately financed. The city is not saying who that contractor is.
“You’ve got to wonder whether this is a project that the city is really committed to – why they would wait until the very last minute to release that report,” said Melanie Scruggs, Houston program director of Texas Campaign for the Environment.
Her group has always opposed One Bin For All. They doubt the city can achieve its goal of recycling up to 75 percent of waste because regular trash would contaminate some of the recyclables when they are put in the same bin.
They also fear the new facility would contribute to air pollution.
At this point at least, Mayor Sylvester Turner is not trying to move the project along.
“I am almost singly focused on two things,” Turner said when asked about One Bin. “And that’s infrastructure in relation to this pothole problem and then getting our arms around our financial challenges.”
The fact that this project is dragging along is good news for Scruggs.
“We are optimistic that the proposal will be shelved,” she said. “The city’s current curbside recycling program was expanded last year and is now in all neighborhoods for the first time, where people have the opportunity to put their recyclables in a second bin.”
She said the group continues to advocate a zero-waste goal and even calls for a three-bin program, which would add a separate bin for compost.
When it comes to safety, dollar-store deals might not be a bargain after all. Recent testing of their products found that 81% contained one or more hazardous chemicals. The tests, conducted by the consumer testing group Healthy Stuff, found chemicals associated with cancer, obesity, diabetes, asthma, thyroid and kidney diseases, learning problems, lower IQ, birth defects and early puberty. Here are 10 items you’re better off buying elsewhere.
Those black slotted spoons and spatulas may contain high levels of bromine, a component in brominated flame retardants, or BFRs. Though these are added to make the products resistant to fire, they’ve been linked to cancer, birth defects and impaired brain development, and have been banned or phased out in the U.S. So what are they doing in kitchen utensils? Suppliers are likely substituting cheap, hazardous recycled content–probably from old electronics–for virgin plastic. Products made with such recycled plastic can be contaminated with BFRs, and our regulatory system misses them. Instead, choose stainless steel.
3. Flannel-Backed Table Covers
Protecting your table from scratches and stains, these bright, reusable covers seem like a good way to add a festive feel to your feast. But recent testing uncovered high levels of lead, aneurotoxic metal that is especially harmful to fetuses and children. It can reduce IQ and cause behavioral problems. Vinyl tablecloths aren’t a good alternative, because they’re made with cancer-causing vinyl chloride. Instead, look for a reusable, washable cloth table cover or a disposable paper or plastic one.
4. Metallic Christmas Garlands
Saving on once-a-year items makes good financial sense. But these have tested high in bromine, indicating that some are made with recycled plastics containing BFRs. These can seep into household dust, possibly causingthyroid problems, memory impairment and other health issues. In general, clear and translucent plastics don’t have the hazardous recycled content, so look for see-through garlands or paper varieties, or make your own out of good old popcorn and cranberries.
5. Silly Straws
These have tested high for levels of DEHP, a phthalate (pronounced “thal-ate”) used widely in consumer products, usually to soften brittle plastics. Some phthalates interfere with the body’s endocrine system, and studies have linked phthalate exposure to asthma and allergies, prostate and testicular cancer and type 2 diabetes. Six phthalates, including DEHP, have been restricted in children’s products–but silly straws aren’t technically children’s products, so they can legally contain high levels of DEHP.
6. Vinyl Floor Coverings
Flexible, adhesive bath mats from dollar stores have tested high in both phthalates and chlorine. Jeff Gearhart, research director ofHealthy Stuff, is especially concerned about the impact of phthalates because they’re used in so many different products. “Exposures are from multiple sources and affect multiple parts of our bodies,” he says. He recommends avoiding products that have the word “vinyl” on the label.
7. Holiday Light Strings
Handling such products as you style your tree could spread toxic dust to your hands, and then you might ingest it. Hard to swallow, considering the high levels of chlorine and bromine (and therefore PVC and flame-retardant chemicals) in these have been linked to cancer and thyroid problems. When buying holiday lights, check the tag to make sure they are RoHS-compliant. (“Restriction of Hazardous Substances” is a European toxics standard that limits some flame retardants in electronics).
8. Metal Children’s Jewelry
All that glitters is not safe: Recent tests showed earrings from dollar stores with high lead levels, exceeding Consumer Product Safety Commission regulations. Lead can leach out of jewelry when children suck or scratch it, and ingesting even tiny amounts of the heavy metal can harm children’s brain development. Since most products never get screened for toxins, and can slip through even when they surpass federal safety standards, skip jewelry like this completely.
9. Metallic Beads
Mardi Gras may mean Fat Tuesday, but throw in some dollar-store garlands, and it’s Toxic Tuesday instead. These necklaces tested high in bromine, indicating that recycled plastic was probably the filler ingredient for the beads. Gearhart has estimated that “a single year’s inventory of Mardi Gras beads may contain up to 900,000 pounds of hazardous flame retardants and 10,000 pounds of lead.” Unless you are partying in the French Quarter, just say no to metallic beads.
10. Window Clings and Removable Wall Stickers
Whether life-size photos of favorite sports stars or colorful holiday graphics, don’t be tempted to redecorate your children’s walls or windows with these. They tend to contain PVC, which the American Public Health Association has called “among the most hazardous of plastic materials” and urges action to phase out the material from homes, schools, hospitals and daycare centers.
The start of a new year offers opportunities to set goals and make changes. Below are some resolutions from people who live, work, and worship in the Austin area.
Robin Schneider, executive director, Texas Campaign for the Environment
In 2016, I resolve to work with Austinites in all 10 City Council districts to get our city on track with our zero waste goals. By October, all renters and all workplaces should have recycling available. If they don’t, Texas Campaign for the Environment and I will work with Austinites and city officials to get building management to comply. Furthermore, we need to catch up with San Antonio, which has already started its three-year roll-out of a third bin for organic waste including food and food-soiled paper like pizza boxes. Finally, five City Council seats will be up in 2016. I resolve to make sure that all candidates running for office hear from residents that our zero waste efforts are significant strategies to protect our climate and conserve our resources.
(Resolutions of other prominent Austinites included in the newspaper.)