The City's New Recycling Effort: Is It Any Good?

While Houston is all set to ratchet up its recycling program, some local experts wonder if the city’s overall philosophy is perhaps too shortsighted.

According to a story in today’s Houston Chronicle, the City Council will vote today on new measures such as providing residents with 90-gallon bins to dump all of their recyclables, including glass, and using an automated sorting system, which would allow residents to use a single recycling bin.

Ella Tyler, communication director for the Citizens’ Environmental Coalition, an information and communications network for environmental issues, says the move would be a great step forward but does not speak to some of the larger issues facing Houston.

“The big bins really are great,” she says. “This however does not at all address the issues of businesses and non-single-family homes. The City of Houston only picks up residential trash for single-family homes, so all of their focus is on a very small part of the overall recycling problem in Houston.”

Last year a trade magazine stated that Houston had only a 2.6 percent recycling rate, ranking it last out of the 30 most populated U.S. cities in terms of recycling.

Tyler also says she feels the city is too focused on reducing the amount of waste tossed in landfills. In today’s Chronicle story, Mayor Bill White is quoted as saying reducing landfill waste is a chief aim.

“The thing that distresses me most,” says Tyler, “is that it appears to me that the Solid Waste Department’s focus on recycling is to reduce landfill costs … as opposed to what’s good for the environment.”

When asked if the city should shoulder more responsibility for collecting recyclables from businesses and more residents, Tyler says, “It depends what your goal is. If your goal is to be good for the environment and to conserve scarce resources, then yes. But if your goal is to conserve scarce landfill space, then the city is doing exactly what it needs to be doing.”

-- Chris Vogel

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