Actually, Say Critics, ‘One Bin for All’ Maybe Not Best Idea

ACTUALLY, SAY CRITICS, ‘ONE BIN FOR ALL’ MAYBE NOT BEST IDEA Mayor Parker’s prize-winning garbage program was questioned yesterday by activists and environmentalists, reports Hair Balls’ Vanessa Piña — especially because the $1 million the city won from Mayor Bloomberg seems awfully puny in light of the expected $100 million the new sorting facility could cost. And, reports Piña, critics are suggesting that “One Bin for All” seems kinda unnecessary: “There is a successful partnership between the city and waste management, and material is daily being handled. Waste Management’s single stream sorting facilities are running at an estimated 50 percent of capacity and can easily handle more if the city will only provide more carts to our citizens,” says Leo Gold. And here’s Dr. Robert Bullard, public affairs dean at Texas Southern: “For someone who has done research and written more than 18 books on this stuff it is rather odd that we would be opting for an unproven, risky idea.” [Hair Balls; previously on Swamplot] Photo of recycling bin in the Heights: Charles Kuffner

29 Comment

  • One bin for all sounds like a great long-term idea. (I admit I don’t know all the details and would hope experts are being consulted.) But in the meantime, WHY can’t more neighborhoods get the big green single-stream recycling bins? Moving from Montrose to the West Heights, I’ve now been forced back to carting my glass to the recycling center. It’s obvious that people will recycle more if you make it easier—the one-bin-for-all idea is the ultimate version of that. So why can’t we get moving on expanding single-stream recycling, especially if this article is correct and there’s capacity at the facility?

  • I have significantly more recycling than I do regular garbage. Each week, I fill less than 1/8 of the brown bin with trash and usually have neighbors/freeloaders filling up my trash can with their garbage.
    My small recycling bin, however, is bursting at the seams. Adding injury to insult, the small bins do not allow glass. I’m with LaurenK: I like the idea of one bin for all, especially long term, but if there are current resources being under-utilized, what else can I do to get more carts? The city doesn’t seem keen on giving me another one. I want the big green one, but nope, I don’t live in an area that qualifies for one.

  • The existing system leaves out 1/3rd of all homeoners. 2/3rds cannot recycle glass. Only 1/3 of the City has the big green cannisters with lids. Everyone else has the puny little box that sends your recyclables flying across the yard when it is windy. And the system is 100% dependent on homeowners sorting their recyclables. There was an attempt to go city wide with the existing system, but that failed because it would have required a $5 a month charge for every homeowner. There are risks and potential downsides to the new single stream tech. Paper goods tend to get contaminated. Initial start-up is expensive and will partially duplicate existing systems. But, the potential upsides are huge. Recycling capture rates potentially can go from 25% to 75%. A public/private partnership could significantly reduce the initial capital costs and finance cost. Landfill space is not cheap. A 75% capture rate would significantly reduce landfill need. It is a new technology that is not proven. But that risk can be managed by contract with the provider of the service. And these kinds of technologies will never go anywhere if no one is willing to take a leap.

  • This Midtown apartment dweller would also appreciate some level of participation, even if it’s just a few green bins next to our dumpster. Driving the recyclables to the West U or Center St. depots and hand-sorting them there is a pain.

  • One bin for all is already (to some extent) used in Houston for office waste. Waste Management will not dump office waste directly into its landfills since it is mostly paper. The relative little non paper waste can be separated with all the paper going to recycling. Much of the non-paper waste can be treated in the paper recycle process.

    My office was considering setting up a paper recycling program and did some investigation. This is when we found out what waste management has been doing with office waste.

    With that said, doing this for non-office customers is a considerably larger task. If it can be done cost effectively, you’ll see it implemented.

    Most people don’t have the luxury to care about the environment for every activity they do. Your life has to pretty comfortable to spend your time sorting your trash and doing everything green. If you are struggling to put food on the table for your kids or yourself, you don’t waste your time with environmental concerns. One bin for all is a way to solve this problem.

  • Recycling on individual basis is like p*ssing in the ocean. Now, if recycling was done automatically behind the scenes form general trash flow, then it might actually make some difference.

  • OldSchool, you know something about everything. It never ceases to amaze me.

  • The more recycling the better–Meanwhile, I believe you can request an additional green box via 311 or the city solid waste dept.
    To loosely quote our VP on another topic, ‘Just because we can’t do everything, doesn’t mean we should do nothing.’

  • I work in the Galleria area so I just take all my recycling once every week or two to the City’s recycling center on Westpark (near Fountainview), where it’s magically sorted and separated for me through community service hours.

    Since my wife roped me into recycling, it’s reduced the amount of trash our house generates to about two 13 gallon bags a week.

  • @Rodrigo You should petition your complex to add a recycling dumpster. Whoever your current dumpster provider is can certainly do that, and it costs about the same as a normal dumpster service. I got one regular and one recycle dumpster for my company (our waste is considered industrial, not office).

  • Sometimes doing nothing is the best course of action in order to preserve resources and efforts for more efficient endeavors which yield greater benefit on the bigger picture.

  • coconutbutter,
    Seriously. You seem like an avid recycle-er and you are obviously annoyed by your limitation of having one bin. You do know that you can put your recycling out in containers other than non-city-issued green bins, right? Also, you can call the city and just get a second small green bin if that’s what you need to be happy. I know you want the big ones but I’m guessing you could make do with the two small ones, right? I do.

  • Thanks Drone, I’ll ask about it.

  • My green bin was getting overly full, so I went to Sears and bought a similar blue bin. They empty it just like the official one, without concern or question, every other week.

  • What a relaxing thought, commonsense. Not this weekend, but next, I plan to follow your advice for once and preserve my resources (I’ve already got commitments this weekend).

  • We moved here from Austin where we were issued a smaller garbage bin on wheels and a larger recycling bin on wheels. The small garbage bin held maybe 3-4 bags of garbage, which forced you to recycle or your trash would be overflowing—if you didn’t have a paid-for sticker on your extra bags of trash, it didn’t get picked up. Maybe this wouldn’t work in our city’s, um, trashy areas, but it worked well in Austin. How about switching to something like this—i.e., smaller trash bins—for 5-10 years rather than spending tens of millions on unproven new facilities? The areas that don’t have wheeled recycle bins can simply use the trash bin as the recycle bins, and be issued the smaller trash bin. Incremental progress like this will help people to think more often about what they’re tossing out: should this go in a landfill or can it be re-used? The “one bin” idea is fine and all, but treats only the symptoms of a larger problem, and does nothing for altering the mindset of small-time waste-generating households.

  • Old School, a public/Private partnership won’t change the capital cost, it just changes who puts up equity or who is responsible for the financing.
    Read an article with an extended interview with the Sustainability Director who dreamed this up. It sounds like a dream. They surveyed all existing technology and decided if we do this, that, the other thing, and them some more, we could recover 75%. The big caveat that she mentioned is that it has to be revenue neutral or better. I can asure you that implementation won’t be revenue neutral.

  • Honestly, if people can drive to shop, they can drive to recycle. It takes a modicum of effort and space, to be sure, but, until the city’s super-fantastic-wonderful-new-$100MM technology is rolled out, it does not seem a lot to ask of ourselves.

  • @freddyrun, you are being way too optimistic. Unless it’s picked up at the curb, very few people will recycle.

  • The big green containers on wheels make recycling a breeze. It’s really not a hassle to separate recyclables from everything else, especially if you can put all the recyclables in one container. But the most important thing is to stop producing so much garbage in the first place. Reuse and then, when it’s truly past all use, recycle. My grandma has margarine tubs that are probably 20 years old. It’s ironic to me that the generation that grew up in the Great Depression understands the concept of not wasting things to a degree that most of us younger folks don’t fully grasp.

  • @Jerry,
    Hi! My issue is with how umm… haphazard my trash/recycling gets picked up. I try to pack everything down tightly, but with a bin, I can pack it better so that I have less stuff that can float away.
    With sacks and boxes, some of the materials end up flying out, and if someone goes through my stuff, they let trash get *everywhere*. That’s one of my complaints when my neighbors dump their trash in my regular bin because they pack it up so poorly that sometimes I end up with dirty diapers and rotting meat that sit in my bin for another week, ugh!
    In my ditch, there is so much stuff that I have to pick up additional debris. I do it, but this is really a huge hassle! One big bin with the lid would make life so much easier! :)

  • @Ross

    Agreed. I’m not going to drive around with my car full of trash looking for a place to recycle. Happy to fill up the bins or cans or whatever at my house, but I’ve got enough to do without adding “Carpool for trash” to my list.

  • you don’t need to drive around aimlessly to look for a place to recycle. Heck, just read the comments on here and you will be given a location you can take your recyclables. It’s the narrow thinking mind that says, “well crap, that takes 1% more effort for me to do than normal, so I just won’t do anything. Pretty sad…
    heres a quote to ponder on with all the time you’ve saved not driving around looking for a recycle center,
    “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

  • @Freddyrun, yes people _can_ drive their recycling to collection centers, but
    a.) They don’t. And you haranguing swamplot readers isn’t going to change that, and
    b.) It’s a terrible waste of transportation resources to move 4200lbs of vehicle + driver + recyclables round trip just to get a few pounds of recyclables one way to the recycling center. A single, dedicated trash/recycling collection route is obviously a much, much better use of those resources.

  • @Joke

    You are correct. I would be happy to pay the $5.50/month or whatever to have the one bin for all. The city already picks up trash, why can’t they pick up the recycling?

  • Anse – since they were pre-recycling, those 20-year-old margarine tubs were built to withstand everything. I still have and use a collection of yogurt & cottage cheese containers that are easily a decade old — plus the sturdy plastic plates that used to come in first generation microwave dinners. They plastic used now is designed to break down so it doesn’t make itself useful for adding to the reuse stack of containers in the cabinet. Odd catch 22-ism.

  • Let’s recycle the Astrodome and use it as the new facility for One Bin for All. No need to build a giant new building, no need for more studies and surveys. It can be the building of the future again.

  • The plant will be built with private money and will allow residents to recycle at higher percentage rates. This is a no brainier for all municipalities to follow. Btw Montgomery alabama is building a plant like this with a private/ public partnership. Construction starts in a month. We can all wait and see if this process and innovative technology works. The same plant is turning the organics into CNG which will be fueling the cities garbage trucks. Only local recycle companies should hate this plan. More things being recycled and less material should go into landfils

  • I attended a Woodland Heights civic association meeting where the city sent a spokesman to promote “one bin…”
    I came away thinking it is a terrible idea. First and foremost, it seems to me another example of Houston settling for “the lowest common denominator” in defining what is progress for this city. They seemed to think that this unproven technology will put Houston on the map when it will only serve as another example to the world of Houstonians being lazy and selfish. This is a poor way to recycle as everything becomes contaminated. The technology behind a one bin system to function efficiently does not exist. Places that have tried similar programs have fallen way short of the predicted success levels that the big companies pushing this system promise.
    In defense of the One Bin system, the rep for the city presented dismal numbers for Houston recycling as proof for why we should abandon the green bins we have no but, they did not take in account that only about 1/4 of the city has the big green bins, no apartments have free recycling nor do businesses. Furthermore, most of the convenient recycling centers have been closed, even though these centers were used to capacity (presumably the property they occupied were too valuable and will be sold. Another example of the city selling willing to sell out our future for quick cash) .
    Normal recycling practices make people think about their waist. If Houstonians can just throw all their stuff in one trash can they will not be as likely to think about how much waste, and what type of waste they are creating. This sort of ignorance resinates in many ways, e.g. the design of packaging, consciousness of what we are consuming etc.
    Other claims were made for job production (for the one bin system to get any quantity valuable recyclables out of the trash people must be included in the separating process. Are these the types of jobs the city wants to promote?) and that the burning of the waste is environmentally friendly (not true). I could go on but I have better things to do.