Houston Matters

A Closeup Look At How Houston’s Recycling Gets Sorted

Houston Matters producer Michael Hagerty tours the Houston Resource Renewal Center, which processes some 95 tons of recyclables a day.

Soda Cans Closeup
A closeup of soda and beer cans to be recycled at the Houston Resource Renewal Center.

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If you recycle, maybe you’ve wondered how the plastic, cardboard and aluminum cans get sorted once they leave your curb or the bin at your office. We’ll, it’s a complicated undertaking.

At a place like the Houston Resource Renewal Center in northeast Houston, some 95 tons of materials are processed every single day in order to keep things like cardboard, plastic bottles and paper from ending up in the landfill across the street.

The facility, which is run by the company Republic Services, is situated in the shadow of a rolling hill. But it’s not an ordinary hill — mainly because we don’t have hills here. It’s the McCarty Road Landfill.

While the recycling facility processes materials strictly from businesses — and not the household items many of us put on the curb once a week — its operation illustrates the intricate process of parsing reusable materials from trash.

Fernando Cedillo of Republic Services gives Houston Matters producer Michael Hagerty a tour of the facility and shows him how all the materials get separated. And Cedillo tells him about some crazy things he’s seen people try to recycle.

MORE: What's Recyclable, What Becomes Trash — And Why (NPR)

  • Bales of mostly plastic bags at the Houston Resource Renewal Center. (Photo Credit: Chris Paul/Houston Public Media)
    Bales of mostly plastic bags at the Houston Resource Renewal Center. (Photo Credit: Chris Paul/Houston Public Media)
  • Materials to be recycled are forced onto a conveyor belt at the Houston Resource Renewal Center. (Photo Credit: Chris Paul/Houston Public Media)
    Materials to be recycled are forced onto a conveyor belt at the Houston Resource Renewal Center. (Photo Credit: Chris Paul/Houston Public Media)
  • Cardboard to be recycled at the Houston Resource Renewal Center. (Photo Credit: Chris Paul/Houston Public Media)
    Cardboard to be recycled at the Houston Resource Renewal Center. (Photo Credit: Chris Paul/Houston Public Media)
  • White office paper to be recycled at the Houston Resource Renewal Center. (Photo Credit: Chris Paul/Houston Public Media)
    White office paper to be recycled at the Houston Resource Renewal Center. (Photo Credit: Chris Paul/Houston Public Media)
  • Bales of soda and beer cans to be recycled at the Houston Resource Renewal Center. (Photo Credit: Chris Paul/Houston Public Media)
    Bales of soda and beer cans to be recycled at the Houston Resource Renewal Center. (Photo Credit: Chris Paul/Houston Public Media)
  • A closeup of soda and beer cans to be recycled at the Houston Resource Renewal Center. (Photo Credit: Chris Paul/Houston Public Media)
    A closeup of soda and beer cans to be recycled at the Houston Resource Renewal Center. (Photo Credit: Chris Paul/Houston Public Media)
  • A collection bin filled with plastic bottles to be recycled at the Houston Resource Renewal Center. (Photo Credit: Chris Paul/Houston Public Media)
    A collection bin filled with plastic bottles to be recycled at the Houston Resource Renewal Center. (Photo Credit: Chris Paul/Houston Public Media)
  • A truck drops off a load of commercial recycling at the Houston Resource Renewal Center. (Photo Credit: Chris Paul/Houston Public Media)
    A truck drops off a load of commercial recycling at the Houston Resource Renewal Center. (Photo Credit: Chris Paul/Houston Public Media)
  • The McCarty Road Landfill in northeast Houston. (Photo Credit: Chris Paul/Houston Public Media)
    The McCarty Road Landfill in northeast Houston. (Photo Credit: Chris Paul/Houston Public Media)
  • Fernando Cedillo of Republic Services poses at the Houston Resource Renewal Center in the northeast part of the city. (Photo Credit: Chris Paul/Houston Public Media)
    Fernando Cedillo of Republic Services poses at the Houston Resource Renewal Center in the northeast part of the city. (Photo Credit: Chris Paul/Houston Public Media)

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Michael Hagerty

Michael Hagerty

Senior Producer, Houston Matters

Michael Hagerty is the senior producer for Houston Matters. He's spent more than 20 years in public radio and television and dabbled in minor league baseball, spending four seasons as the public address announcer for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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