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Houston City Council candidates: Environmental forum

September 4, 2015
11885269_1661509437427949_5644533939041699376_nTCE Blog
Melanie Scruggs, Houston Program Director

We were proud to support the 2015 Citizens Environmental Coalition (CEC) candidate forum for City of Houston at-large candidates co-sponsored by League of Women Voters Houston and 25 local environmental groups. Several of the questions asked by moderator Charles Kuffner related to issues that we work on, such as expanding recycling and composting city-wide. To provide a brief synopsis of the event, we transcribed the responses about Zero Waste below, and you can also watch the video to hear for yourself what the candidates had to say. After you’ve heard where candidates stand, please take a minute to email all candidates running for Mayor and City Council, asking them to support Zero Waste if they don’t already!

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Kuffner: 10 cities in Texas have passed ordinances to restrict or forbid the use of single-use, plastic bags. Houston has not taken up such an ordinance yet. Would you support such an ordinance? (0:24:40 in the video)

David Robinson (At-large #2 candidate): “Absolutely, yes, I think a lot has been made so far in the discussion tonight about the importance of being able to collaborate with some of our congressional delegation. As an architect, I have been part of the group that goes to Austin to work with our legislators about things of importance to us, especially in the built environment. That is the category that I’ve dedicated my career to. The department of the committee of urban design for the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects is something that I’ve led for ten years. Specifically, when it comes to bags and other pollutants that find their way to the bayou, I know I’m committed. I think I would expand that host of things that we need to petition our legislators about to include. Having been a part of a city and a state where I come from, Boston, Massachusetts, that has very successfully applied a five cent tax or fee on returnables for recyclables, it has been a very effective thing for both cleaning up our cities and as well as providing some sort of revenue for the people that collect cans. I think there’s various ways we can tackle this in collaboration between the city and state legislature. I feel that I am the elected official now in a very excellent position to get some of these tough laws passed.”

Andrew Burks (At-large #2 candidate): “Well, I happen to think very differently on that. One thing is that I’ve noticed, other cities around the nation have begun to implement charging you something for the bag when you purchase something from their store. I also see a number of trash and debris on our roadsides and into our waterways. I’m not just going to focus on plastic bags. But the whole thing is we’re trashing up our community. We’re not keeping it beautiful. We have laws on the books but we do not adhere to those laws and our police do not enforce those laws. When I was in the military, you could not drop a cigarette on the ground and leave it there. You would have to bury that baby about four feet deep in the water if they saw that. But out here we just throw anything out the windows. Down these streets everyday I have to monitor in front of my home for trash as people pass by and they just throw it out of their cars and don’t care where it lands. So we have a bigger problem than just plastic bags, and I will tell you this, that I will work hard to keep Houston clean.”

Kuffner: As you know, the City of Houston has curbside recycling for all single family dwellings in the city, however a large number of people in Houston live in apartments. How would you like to see – what plan would you support for the city – to expand recycling to apartments? (0:38:00)

Doug Peterson (At-large #3 candidate): “Well, I think the point here is that all citizens in the City of Houston need to take part in recycling. We need to be able to move forward with a plan that will include apartment complexes of all types. If that means that is part of the overall cost of your rent and there is a central place where you put all your recycling in the same place to be picked up by the city, then so be it. I think that’s good. I think we really need to move past some of the ideas that have been out there besides this. The whole thing about one bin recycling is something that the current administration has been pushing quite a bit, and I think we need to reject that at this point, and just move forward and do everything we can to make sure that everybody participates. And we may need to have some incentives to do that, but we got to get moving on it.”

John LaRue (At-large #2 candidate): “I’ll echo Doug’s comments on One Bin. I think it’s a really bad idea. In general, privatization of municipal services is something that I oppose. I live in an apartment, so it kills me every time I have to throw an aluminum can in the trash can. When I lived in DC, it was so nice. We had one big can for recyclables and one big can for trash and it would be so much easier if we had that. I would agree. I would support any option including if there’s an additional fee that we would need to add on, or to build some kind of community drop off centers for cans. I know a lot of people, especially younger people who live in apartments and are much more eco-conscious and would be willing to drive a little bit even if it’s a mile down the road to recycle. Because sustainability is really important. We’ve only got this one planet and we really need to not trash it.”

Joe McElligott (At-large #2 candidate): “So that’s a really good question, and there isn’t a really good answer to that, to be honest. I mean, in my experience coming to this platform, I first joined because of finance, and then I first saw voting rights is a really big issue, and I still think it is. But to answer your question as far as environmental recycling, I have a video on our website, I won’t go into detail, but it basically explains how Sweden does their recycling. They actually import it. They create jobs. Can Houston do it? Possibly. I think there’s some things to look at that other cities are doing, what other countries are doing. It’s just not a one-size-fits-all answer.”

Kuffner: As you know the City has curbside recycling and it has a separate pickup for yard waste, but a significant amount of what goes into landfills is organic waste, stuff that maybe could be composted. Some cities like Austin have a separate pickup curbside for compost. Do you support the City of Houston pursuing a plan like that? (1:00:00)

Jack Christie (At-large #5 candidate): “Absolutely, I still believe in separate recycling. I embarrassed my high rise building into recycling and the different parts of it. When I was in a big house and the kids were small, I never bagged up recycling. It was always mulched and put it back in the garden and/or the ground. It’s common sense, understanding nature. What you take out it goes back in to recycle it. If you’re listening to money making disposal companies and chemical companies, it’s not going to work. A professor at Rice University, Hackerman, before he died, he wanted children to understand nature. He asked the Texas State Board of Education if we can get kids to understand nature. They said, you know what you just said? He said, yeah. It’s geology, it’s chemistry, biology, physiology, zoology, histology. Understanding how it all works. You do that, you’re going to recycle properly.”

Philippe Nassif (At-large #5 candidate): “I am a really big supporter of Zero Waste. The City of Houston is really, really behind not just in how we process recycling, the number of households. There was a question earlier about apartment complexes and I think that apartments should be required to at least have one bin available for people to recycle, and right now they are not. With regards to composting, I would love to see a city-wide composting plan put into place as all part of Zero Waste, and I would like to actually take it a step further and be sure that we’re educating people just on how to compost. I’ve had some relatively bad experiences trying to compost myself. I finally figured it out what all is involved. I think it’s really important to educate people on how to compost, how to recycle and to recycle better.”

Related: Where do Houston Candidates Stand on Recycling?

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