No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Houston Activists Say New Recycling System Is Not the Way to Go

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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, those at the press conference said, but with that comes 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."

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