City: We Saved Recycling (Except for the Glass)

You'll have to find a different place to throw your empty beer bottles, because the City of Houston is no longer recycling them. That's thanks to a new two-year contract with Waste Management that Mayor Sylvester Turner announced Friday. 

A couple of weeks ago, the city was actually considering just nixing recycling altogether. Its previous contract with Waste Management was set to expire today, and Turner wasn't on board with either of the offers WM had been making: One contract would cost the city $18 million over six years, with a $95-per-ton processing fee; the other was $11.5 million for three years. Turner, who is facing a budget deficit of up to $160 million and is already expecting to have to lay off a bunch of city employees, thought he could get away with asking for a cheaper one-year deal, wanting to save as many city employees as possible. When that didn't go over well with WM, recycling's future in Houston got a little hazier.

But on Friday, Turner called the deal he and WM finally worked out a "win-win" situation for everyone. The proposal, which still has to be approved by City Council within two weeks, will cost the city $2.7 million per year for two years, with a $90-per-ton processing fee. That'll save the city $900,000 a year compared to the original negotiation. "This agreement makes good economic sense for the city and for Waste Management," Turner said. "It reaffirms our commitment to recycling, and it doesn’t tie the city to a long-term contract."

The caveat: no more glass in the green bins.

It's the heaviest recycling item and therefore the most expensive one for Waste Management to process — it has "negative value," according to Don Smith, Waste Management TexOma Area vice president. It normally breaks during collection anyway, and can rip up WM's equipment, too.

"Removing glass from the recycling stream was a difficult decision — some would call it a painful decision," Smith said. "But it was a necessary decision."

Now for the city's next math problem: How many more tons of garbage are going to end up in the landfills as a result?