Houston One-Bin Proposal: The Wrong Choice

Date: 28 Jan 2015 | posted in: waste - zero waste, Waste to Wealth | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Neil Seldman, ILSR Waste to Wealth Program, Washington, DC continues to follow the one bin proposal in Houston, Texas. In his January 7th Letter to the Editor, Seldman underscores the fact that city’s pilot curbside recycling program is working well and is quite popular. Can you imagine how fast the program could spread, increasing the materials recovered and the jobs created, if the city officials would see the light and agree to invest just a fraction of the $45.9 million annually for economic development?

In August 2014, Seldman’s letter to the editor raised economic and environmental questions about the project. Seldman compared Houston’s approach to that of Austin, Texas, which has a zero waste goal. Houston could arguably catch up and surpass Austin, which is on a path to zero waste (90% diversion from landfill and incineration) by 2025.

In December, at a meeting of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) Recycling Committee, local officials, industry members, and the public, discussed the one-bin waste collection and recycling technology being promoted in various US cities. Indianapolis is introducing a one-bin processing line for its garbage to feed its mass burn incinerator.

The one bin system is not a strategy for conserving and recycling valuable material resources and getting them to markets.  It is, instead, a strategy to upgrade the waste stream as a fuel.  A US paper recycling industry executive responded to this presentation by pointing out that the markets would not purchase the contaminated paper recovered by one bin technology. This underscores the need to marry one bin processing and incineration.

Local opponents to the one bin system, which replaces curbside recycling, fear that this is the end goal of the Houston plan. Officially, the city has not committed to any waste to energy technology.

In January, a Houston Chronicle report provided a detailed cost comparison between the one bin/incineration plan and a just signed contract for long term local landfill disposal at $23.50 per ton.  The plan would cost Houston residents, businesses and institutions $40 to $160 per ton.  Assuming a mid-range cost of $100 per ton is a daily surcharge of $153,000 compared to the new landfill contract. This amounts to $45.9 million annually (assuming 300 days of operation per year) from the pockets of Houston residents, businesses and institutions (e.g., schools and hospitals).

There are also opportunity costs as the destroyed materials could lead to hundreds if not a thousand jobs in processing, manufacturing and agriculture.

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Neil Seldman

Neil Seldman, Ph.D, directs the Waste to Wealth Initiative. He specializes in helping cities and businesses recover increasing amounts of materials from the waste stream and add value to the local economy through new processing and manufacturing facilities. He is a co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.