Recycling Program Sizes Up City For Larger Bins

Back in 2008, Houston was recycling about 17 percent of its waste compared to 69 percent for New York. However things are turning around, thanks to a 5 year free pilot recycling program that involves large green bins.


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That’s a familiar sound come trash day. A truck pulls up to your driveway lifts the bin, empties the contents and moves on to the next house. If you’re a recycler then you’ll have your 18 gallon tub ready to be picked up too. If you’re an avid recycler then this is the scenario.

“There’s five bins and I gotta line them up.”

That’s Dennis Abrams who lives in Norhill in the Heights near downtown. He is a huge recycler and goes to great lengths sorting his paper, plastic and cans so his five tubs are ready to be picked up. At the mention of a windy or rainy recycling day Abrams visibly grimaces.

“The paper gets soggy and everything runs, it gets nasty. It’s a pain. When it’s windy, I spend half the day going out picking stuff up and bringing it back and putting in it the bins and squishing it down, because sometimes the five containers aren’t really enough anyway.”

That may sound awfully familiar if you’re a recycler, but if you’re one of the nearly 107,000 households in the city with a 96 gallon green bin, it’s a different story. In fact, not even a mile away from where Abrams lives is the Woodland Heights, where it’s like a different recycling world.

“Here you just dump it all it and they come and take it away.”

Recycling Bins Marlena Majoie with her big green bin
Recycling Bins Marlena Majoie with her big green bin

Marlena Majoie is talking about her big green bin, which she fills with paper, plastic, cardboard, cans and glass. She wheels it down to the end of her driveway every two weeks and that’s it. Majoie lives in one of the 248 subdivisions in the city that provides the service.

Harry Hayes is the director with the city of Houston’s Solid Waste Management Department. He couldn’t be happier with how the pilot program is working out.

“There is a ground swell of activity. We’ve seen the recycling numbers go up in the neighborhoods that have the 96 gallon containers the amount of waste in the black cans has gone down significantly.”

This sentiment is echoed by Jan Rynda-Greer, who also lives in the Woodland Heights.

“And we, we love it, love it, love it because you don’t realize until you have the opportunity just how much you throw away that is recyclable.”

And that is the whole point to this program says Hayes.

“The more material that we can keep out of the landfill the better we are, and so if the program can half-way pay for itself or 60% pay for itself, I mean that’s still a success.”

So while the city isn’t currently turning a profit on the larger recycling bins, those households using them are putting less in their black bins. The lighter the black bin, the less money they have to pay when they’re charged by weight at the landfill. Which means more money in the city’s pocket for more bins and that’s Hayes’ hope. 

“Our goal is to have every Houstonian with a 96 gallon container.”

If you’re interested in bringing these bins to your neighborhood Hayes recommends speaking to your local representative. In the meantime, if you have one he has these words of comfort:

“If there are neighborhoods out there that are afraid that we’re gonna come and take their 96 gallon container, they can rest well at night knowing that that’s not gonna happen.”

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