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Should Houston Trash Plans for "One Bin for All" Waste Collection?

PHOTO: The city of Houston is considering a move to "One Bin For All" Waste Management, but the Texas Campaign for the Environment says it's a move in the wrong direction. Photo credit: Public Domain
PHOTO: The city of Houston is considering a move to "One Bin For All" Waste Management, but the Texas Campaign for the Environment says it's a move in the wrong direction. Photo credit: Public Domain
March 15, 2013

HOUSTON – The city of Houston is being urged to trash its proposal for a one bin garbage and recycling system.

City officials are considering a plan for residents to toss all waste into a single bin, with the separation done at a new materials recycling facility – known as a dirty MRF (mirff).

It may sound like a novel idea on the surface, but Robert Bullard, dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University, says it's really a step backwards.

"Having this idea that you can just put everything in one bin and then shoot it off to some facility and not aggressively move forward with real recycling, I think that may be one of the drawbacks of it,” he says. “It may give the false impression that somehow we can deal with our waste without really dealing with a full blown recycling plan."

As the system stands now, nearly half of Houstonians don't even have recycling services. If the one bin plan moves forward, the estimated cost to build the new dirty MRF is $100 million and would be funded through a public-private partnership.

One of the issues with the one bin process is that contamination causes a lot of material to never be recycled.

Tyson Sowell is the Houston area program director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment.

"Any time you're putting paper in with coffee grounds, you contaminate that paper,” he explains. “And that paper is now worthless and no recycler is going to purchase that paper to actually recycle it, so with no end market, it ends up being put in a landfill."

The "One Bin for All" blueprint to lower costs and reduce landfill waste earned Houston a $1 million prize from Bloomberg Charities, and city officials call the plan revolutionary and cutting edge.

Bullard says for the fourth largest city in America – out on a limb might be a better description.

"There's no queue or long line of cities moving in that direction,” he says. “And what they're talking about is untried and is experimental and so I think that you take a million dollars and study it, but you should not scrap what you have, something that's tried and true."


John Michaelson, Public News Service - TX