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City strikes recycling deal that eliminates glass

March 16, 2016

Houston Chronicle
by Rebecca Elliot
Original article here

Glass no longer will be accepted in Houston’s curbside recycling program under a two-year
deal with Waste Management, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced Friday.

The city’s curbside recycling program was in limbo after city officials and the Houston based
waste giant hit an impasse this week over contract negotiations, prompting concerns
about a potential lapse in service.

Collections will continue uninterrupted under the new agreement, but the 96-gallon green
bins will be limited to paper, cardboard, plastics and metal cans. Glass containers still can
be dropped off at the city’s neighborhood depositories but no longer will be allowed in the
curbside bins.

Eliminating glass will lower the processing costs for Waste Management.

“This agreement makes good economic sense for the city and for Waste Management. It
reaffirms our commitment to recycling. It doesn’t tie the city to a long-term contract,”
Turner said. “It allows Waste Management to avoid the employee layoffs that would have
likely resulted from cancellation of service in Houston and provides an opportunity for
potential competitors to enter the market.”

The city’s current contract with Waste Management has been extended from March 16
until March 23, when City Council next meets and can review the proposed agreement.

Don Smith, Waste Management’s area vice president, lauded the deal.

“We’re committed to ensuring that recycling is a long-term viable option for the city of
Houston,” Smith said, noting that glass not only is a negative-value commodity but also
contaminates fiber and plastic materials when it breaks.

“Removing glass from the recyclable stream was not an easy decision, and some would call
it a painful decision. But it was a necessary decision,” Smith said.

Under the new agreement, the city would pay Waste Management $90 per ton to process
and resell its recyclables, down from $95 under a four-year contract City Council rejected
on Wednesday. Turner had proposed paying $104 per ton in a one-year deal that Waste
Management turned down.

The firm currently charges a $65-per-ton processing fee, but with commodities prices
dropping below $50 a ton, it has renegotiated many of its municipal recycling contracts to
get more favorable terms.

Turner estimated the proposed contract would cost the city $2.7 million per year. It
requires at least 75 percent of the city’s recyclables to go to Waste Management facilities.

Confused residents?

Solid Waste Management Department Director Harry Hayes estimated that eliminating
glass would cut curbside recycling by about 1,000 tons a month. That would bring
Houston’s annual recycling tonnage to about 54,000, from 66,000.

If all of that glass were sent to a landfill, it would cost the city $27,000 per month more in
tipping fees, Hayes said.

Turner acknowledged that the new deal may leave residents confused about what
materials they can recycle curbside.

“I think both parties anticipate that glass may still be placed in the bins for a few months,
and we’re prepared to deal with that,” Turner said.

Councilman Dwight Boykins, for his part, said he planned to release a robocall to 13,000
voters in his district on Friday night, informing them of the new rule.

“I’m glad that the residents of District D will not lose the recycling program … and that the
mayor has not allowed Waste Management or any corporate industry in Houston to take
advantage of the city and its financially weak position,” Boykins said.

The city must close a budget gap of more than $126 million by July 1, an effort officials
have said is likely to result in layoffs.

“It’s a win-win,” Councilman Dave Martin said. “Our fiscal affairs are our doing, not their
doing. I’m just glad that they agreed to work with us on it.”

Still, some council members expressed reservations about the deal.

“It’s good, it’s better, but it’s not something I’m interested in doing at the moment,”
Councilman Mike Knox said, noting the increased processing fee. “I’m not for spending
any more money than we’ve already spent on it.”

Councilman Greg Travis said he still was bothered that the city has not gone through a
competitive bidding process for its recycling program.

“The mayor, he’s been put in a bind,” Travis said, adding, “Is this the best we can get? We
still don’t know that, because we haven’t done competitive bidding.”

Long-term plan eyed

Texas Campaign for the Environment’s Houston program director, Melanie Scruggs,
welcomed a short-term solution that allows recycling services to continue without
disruption but said eliminating glass is a step backward.

“Not being able to put our glass in the bin means that the majority of it will probably go to
a landfill since most people who use the curbside program are not likely to take it to a
dropoff,” Scruggs said. “We would like to see a long-term plan that will attract more
recyclers and get us moving toward zero waste.”

Meyerland-area resident Brian Block agreed that the new agreement is not ideal.

“It’s a little disappointing just because it will probably be less likely that glass will be part
of recycling, and we’ll see an increase in glass in our landfills, I would imagine,” Block said.
Heights resident Virgil Worthey was unperturbed by the change.

“I don’t drink, so I don’t use a lot of glass,” Worthey said. “Everything is in plastic already.”
Another resident, Dr. Billy Gill, praised the move, saying “I would rather deal with the
glass than do away with the entire program.”

He said he and his wife frequently shop online and depend on the city’s recycling program
to get rid of a regular stockpile of cardboard boxes. However, he said the family was too
busy to worry about glass containers.

“I’m just going to have to put glass in the garbage,” he said, “because I’m not driving to a
neighborhood dropoff.”

Trey Strange contributed to this report.


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