You Don't Get Something for Nothing: Environmentalist Still Thinks Houston's New Recycling Project Is Wanting

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The City of Houston is moving forward with plans to build a recycling project, but environmentalists still insist the project the city has chosen is, ironically enough, bad for the environment.

Now city officials have opened up the field for bids on the project, and Tyson Sowell of the Texas Campaign for the Environment is still saying the project is the wrong way to go.

Back in March, Mayor Annise Parker announced that the city had received a $1 million grant as finalists for a proposed recycling project, "One Bin for All." New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the sponsor of the contest, was, of course, a big fan of the idea, which would take recycling out of the hands of individuals and make it something that simply happened to all Houston trash as a matter of course.

"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," Parker stated in March when accepting the award.

While some major cities have been pretty into recycling for years, Houston doesn't offer curbside recycling to all residents and has a recycling rate of about 14 percent, according to Sowell.

"That's an abysmal percentage," he said. While Sowell said he is all for some kind of a recycling program in Houston, the one-bin approach the city is investing in will cost millions of dollars and won't be as environmentally sound as simply giving people recycling bins where they separate the recyclables and having the recyclables picked up.

The facility has yet to be built, but Sowell says it will cost $100 million to build and some of the stuff it'll be recycling, particularly paper, will be harder to recycle if it's been mingling with regular garbage. The process will be hardest on paper products, since paper that has been covered in coffee grounds and the other stuff that routinely gets thrown in the trash loses its value accordingly as a recycling product, Sowell said.

This version of recycling was a popular trend in the 1990s, but the companies that built the kinds of facilities required to handle one-bin recycling went out of business and it didn't last as a way of conducting recycling in major cities, Sowell said.

His organization is still hoping city officials will decide to go with a more old-fashioned approach to recycling, issuing those green recycling bins and letting people sort out their own recyclables before the trash gets to the processing facility, an approach that is both proven to work and cheaper -- they estimate it would cost about $17 million to outfit everyone in the city with access to these bins. It'll be cheaper overall because Sowell said the other plan will end up costing the city more money than the company is saying, whether the company officials admit it or not.

"The idea that it's not going to cost the city anything at all when it's going to cost more than $100 million is an idea so ridiculous that I don't know how anyone believes it," Sowell said. "At best it's a pipe dream, and at worst it's a boondoggle and we're being swindled."

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