Most Houstonians have probably seen the big, green recycling bins in the parking lots of many schools. The bins are receptacles for papers and magazines. What most people don't know is any paper collected in those bins directly benefits the organization where the bin is placed. Debbie Johnston is with Abitibi-Consolidated, a forest products company with extensive paper manufacturing and recycling operations. She says the company's PaperRetriever program started in Houston ten years ago.
"We partner with schools, places of worship and other non-profits and get permission from them to place a bin on their premises and then they encourage members, parents of schoolchildren and people in their neighborhood to bring all of their newspapers, magazines and other recyclable papers to that bin. And in return then, we pay the schools, churches etc. for the paper that they collect in the bins and we're able to reuse that paper and manufacture recycled newsprint."
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality awarded the company with a Texas Environmental Excellence Award. Terry Clawson with the TCEQ says the program teaches children about social and environmental responsibility and passes benefits directly on to non-profit and educational organizations. That, coupled with the recycling efforts, was what secured the environmental award.
"Promoting recycling is very, very important for two reasons: One, recycling paper, for instance, uses much less energy. It produces much less of an impact on the environment than if you go out and use raw wood pulp. And then the second reason that it's good is it reduces the waste in landfills. So you can -- the landfills that we already have will last longer and we won't have to make new landfills as fast."
The PaperRetriever program has about 20,000 recycling bins placed at sites in 23 states. Abitibi-Consolidated collects nearly 300,000 tons of paper per year in Texas alone. Johnston says the program helps communities, but it also benefits the company.
"And the paper that is in those paper retrievers is, for the most part, very good, clean paper. It hasn't been contaminated with food items or other things that you might find in the curbside material. So it's good, solid paper that we can depend on getting and paying for and then sending to our paper mills so that they can manufacture the recycled paper."
In 2004, the program earned $1 million for Texas organizations. Laurie Johnson HPR News.