Doubling Recycling, Halving Costs

Houston is moving closer to a city-wide recycling program.
But the catch is making recycling pay for itself.

Laurie Johnson has more.


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Historically, Houston’s recycling record has been somewhat dismal. But a new city of Houston program, tested on 10,000 households, shows a more than 200 percent increase in participation. Solid Waste Director Harry Hayes says that’s largely because they changed the way they pick up the recycled products.

“The material is protected from the elements, so cardboard and paper is not getting wet. The wind is not blowing mail out of containers or empty aluminum cans, and so that has really helped with litter control in neighborhoods.”

And the size of the bins has changed from the old 18-gallon container to huge new 96-gallon covered cans on wheels. That means more cardboard, paper and bulky items like milk jugs fit into the bins. The average household collection jumped from 15 pounds of material to 33 pounds.

Houston Mayor Bill White says the city has a 4-5 year rollout plan to expand the program. Right now it’s a pay-as-you-go process. Money made from recycling the products goes back into paying for more recycling.

“Proof will be in the pudding of how many people recycle with these big drums. So far the first report is extremely positive on it. But if people don’t participate in the program, then it will be a money-loser.”

It would cost an estimated $32 million to completely expand the program, including the purchase of new hybrid trucks and the large containers. Hayes says they’re pursuing federal stimulus money to make that happen.

“But in order for us to make the giant leap forward, we need a huge amount of capital to do that. And it seems that the easiest way to do that is through some type of financing arrangements where the reduced landfill costs and the revenue generated from the sale of the commodities would pay the note on that expense. And so the mayor is working with the Office of the President on this and trying to push this issue forward through the stimulus.”

The city estimates they’ve reduced the amount of waste going into landfills by nearly 200,000 tons in the past six years. Right now there are about 40,000 people on the waiting list for city recycling services.

Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.

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Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Executive Producer for News

Laurie Johnson leads daily news coverage for HPM. She helps reporters craft and sharpen their stories on tight deadlines, with the aim of getting the most relevant and current information into local newscasts. Laurie is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. She is...

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