New Rules for Yard Waste

NEW RULES FOR YARD WASTE After several delays, Houston’s new yard waste regime finally goes into effect this week. From now on, if you want city trucks to pick up your leaves and lawn goodies, you’ll need to put them in city-approved compostable bags. The 39-gallon bags cost 50 to 80 cents each — as much as 8 times the price of conventional plastic bags — but city officials claim the change will save $1.5 million a year in waste-disposal fees and divert 60,000 tons of material from local landfills. The money saved will be used to expand the city’s automated curbside recycling program, but nobody’s reporting how we’re possibly going to make up the landfill gap. Don’t feel like shelling out for the bags? The Solid Waste Management Dept. is encouraging thrifty homeowners and yard crews to adopt the complicated technique of “grasscycling” — leaving grass clippings on lawns — and to start their own composting programs. In a few weeks, the city will begin doling out fines of up to $2,000 to residents who put leaves and clipping into city garbage containers. [Houston Chronicle; where to buy]

42 Comment

  • Ok, I’m going to ask an obvious question. How will they know if you have yard clipping in the garbage container?

    The driver doesn’t see the contents. They just use the automated pick-up on the side and it dumps in on top.

    I someone going to get out and look at each can before it is picked up? And what about people with no yards but have lots of plants (like many patio homes). With the hard freezes we had this winter, a lot people are going to be throwing the dead plants in the garbage (and no, I don’t have room to compost, cause I would if I could).

    Another perfect example of an ordinance with good intentions that will go horribly wrong.

  • As responsible denizens of Houston it is incumbent on us to do what is right: recycle, compost, re-purpose, etc.

    But the perceived reality is that it is so much easier to simply throw items away… out of sight, out of mind. Ours is a throw-away culture enabled by ease and laziness.

    Wouldn’t our city be a slightly better place if we collectively expended a little more effort to be ecologically minded? Of course it would.

    What are the chances of that happening?

  • Yeah.. Are we going to have some San Francisco style “trash police” who go around looking at your trash to make sure you’re not throwing out banana peels and pulled weeds..

    I will not be buying government approved trash bags.. so *nyeh* Mr Nanny state.

  • Lots of illegal things are impossible to perfectly police—that doesn’t mean they can’t still be illegal. It’s fine to outlaw lawn waste in the trash without having garbage inspectors. Chill out. The law will still discourage the behavior, and they’ll fine you if they do happen to catch it somehow, just like with almost every other crime in existence.

  • The bags are wispy and don’t hold as much “yard waste” as a conventional garbage bag without breaking. And forget about puting anything that resembles a stick or a branch in there. I agree, we should all do more “recycling” of vegitative materials, but there are plenty of homes that dont have the space or residents who dont have the room or muscle to compost.

    The notion of trash police is not so far-fetched. In Haverhill MA, where a friend of mine lives, residents are required BY LAW to recycle glass and plastic. If the garbage men see a wine bottle in a trash bag, they can (and do) tear open the bag, leave the bottle behind and take away the rest.

  • The cost of these bags is no joke. About a month ago I jumped the gun and bought a box of these. 10 bags for $6. And they’re smaller than tall kitchen trash bags. This will be really fun once the leaves start falling next fall.

  • A friend who lives outside the city limits (and thus doesn’t have to comply with this) asked about the paper yard waste bags. Are these legal? They’re made of paper.

  • so where is the cost savings coming from, simply picking up less waste?

    this is going to be awesome when the yard crews keep dumping the yard waste for the triplex i live in and the building next door into my trash cans.

  • “It’s fine to outlaw lawn waste in the trash without having garbage inspectors”

    Why is it fine to outlaw this? This is a complete waste of time for the city to spend time on this topic.

    If the city wanted to do something productive, they could say they will not pick up any yard waste (grass clippings) in bags unless they are in the city garbage cans. Most yards that produced grass clippings to point of bagging it would easily fill one of these containers leaving no room for the household’s regular trash. If you pay for a landscaper to maintain the lawn, the landscaper can hall the clippings off for a price. If you cut your grass yourself, you’ll likely have enough will to utilize the clippings as mulch or compost or have a newer mower than just mulches into the ground.

    The city should still pick up heavier yard trash such as limbs and branches. The city has been doing a great job mulching this waste for it’s own use and then selling it to nurseries to produce locally made mulch. This waste has essentially been recycled by the city in an effective manner.

  • I think it’s a great idea! I typically compost, but I filled 5 bags with spring weeds Sunday. The bags are not for construction debris so one might use a few more.

  • Good thing a lot of people unhappy about the new bags weren’t alive during WWII scrap drives – they would have apparently run naked and screaming into the streets for a nervous breakdown.

    According to the materials I got, bundled limbs under 4 feet in length will still be picked up on regular trash days – larger limbs will be taken care of on heavy trash days.

  • I’m amused by the hysteria over these new yard bags. So they cost a few extra cents over conventional yard bags – few freakin cents! Don’t we have more important things to worry about like Karzai cozying up to the Taliban, honeybee decimation, net neutrality or if the Astros even have a snowball’s chance in a Houston summer of finishing third in their division this year?

  • SL,

    The hysteria isn’t over the cost of the silly bags. It’s the concept that you would be breaking that law if you happen to dispose of grass clippings the wrong way.

    Yet the city does absolutely nothing to stop all the of the landscaping companies that just blow grass clipping around and on to streets and especially into storm drains (big pet peeve that contributes greatly to street flooding in many neighborhoods). Of course the city would never do anything to affect landscapers because politically they would be killed for going after illegals employed by them.

  • We just leave it on the lawn. There problem fixed.

  • In addition to the small size, high cost and overall fragility, the anecdotes I have heard indicate that if two drops of rain hit one of these bags, the structural integrity (to the extent there ever was any) begins to disappear, and you end up with a pile of leaves, and some shredded plastic. The bags also don’t like high humidity levels. So you can’t let them get wet, or leave them in the garage. Perhaps we can all get wine storage units for them – given what they cost, that might be appropriate!

  • kjb434 I agree w/ you 100% about the landscapers. It drives me crazy to see them blowing yard waste into the street and sewers! I thought blowers were invented to blow the waste off the concrete and back onto the lawn, instead they have it backwards. That pet peave is right up there w/ the landscapers who slope mulch up against the trunks of planted trees and pile it 4 FEET HIGH. But I digress.

  • Here’s a fun trick:
    If you have a neighbor you don’t like, you can toss a bag of leaves in their can then dial 311 to report them.

  • I especially hate the landscapers who blow all the yard waste into the neighbors’ yards.

  • It will only save $1.5MM? That doesn’t seem like much of a savings – won’t enforcing the new law cost about that much?

  • Al,
    The couple of bags I put out this last weekend didn’t have any problem with the rain. They feel a bit latexy, but other than that, at least the ones I bought at Kroger seem to work okay. Frankly, I hate the idea that my yard waste could end up in a landfill. I like this alternative.

    “the anecdotes I have heard indicate that if two drops of rain hit one of these bags, the structural integrity (to the extent there ever was any) begins to disappear, and you end up with a pile of leaves, and some shredded plastic”

  • The $2,000 fine seems way too low. They should add a couple zeros or just confiscate the house.

  • @randomreader,
    I always thought is was a good idea to have organic materials in landfills because it seems like that would speed up the decomposition of the other stuff in there.

  • 80 cents for one government trash bag? That’s nuts!

    Who owns the company that makes these trash bags? Anyone know? Can I wager a guess that they are family of government?

    You see, it’s not that .80 cents will break my bank, but it’s the notion that someone is selling 2c trash bags for 80c because they have enough lobbyists to mandate that everyone buy their product or pay a fine. That’s really unamerican if you ask me…It resembles 3rd world politics. Someone is getting rich rich rich by adding yet another layer of government nannyism.

  • @ILikeTact
    I think landfills are capped and organics decompose slowly, if at all. Also, I like the ida that my leaves end up as plant food somewhere (like the leaf litter in a forest) and not permanently buried in a landfill.
    I’m not an expert on dumps, though. I have a really small yard (at most a bag a week)_ so I don’t feel the hit of the bag cost. I can see why others may be more sensitive.

  • I live on an average size lot in the Heights, with several mature trees, and can easily go through 30-50 large bags in a single fall/winter. I currently mulch my lawn clippings. I can’t imagine how many bags that would require if I did not.

  • I live on a large lot in the heights with a couple of mature trees. I haven’t bagged one leaf, actually I have picked up lawn clippings and leaves from neighbors that have been set out, and put both into my compost. I’ve filled 2 5’x25′ raised beds with the compost in the last 2 years. I now have a 3 pile/annual rotation taking up a 4’x12′ area. I doubt I will ever run out of capacity for waste generated by my property. Sorry but this arguement about not enough space is not a logical one.

  • All you have to do is some research to find lower cost bags…

    -Gallon EcoSafe™ Degradable Large Trash Bags
    120-ct carton
    EcoSafe bags are just like regular plastic bags, except that they will totally fragment and disintegrate in 12 to 24 months.

    Family size has 120 bags per Carton
    Was $38.49 ON SALE NOW – $31.39

    (that took me 5 minutes to find!)

  • Honestly, a mulching mower is an excellent investment considering how much bagging time and water bill expenses it saves. I’m also talking a fairly generous(over 10,000 sq ft) lot.

  • Rimba,

    Are those bags the official approved ones though. It’ not good enough that they are eco-friendly, but they have to approved for use by the city.

    Ain’t pointless regulations fun!

  • Considering I pay no additional taxes or fees to have my trash hauled away by the city, I’m willing to do whatever the city asks to avoid having another monthly bill.

    I would love it if the city had waste programs like in San Francisco or Austin, but that’s wishing for too much.

  • You do pay taxes for waste pick. Just because you aren’t billed directly like water doesn’t mean your aren’t taxed. It’s in your property taxes if you own property. It’s in your rent if you lease.

    And Austin and San Francisco aren’t to high up on the list of thing I would like Houston to become. Might as well as be taking a couple steps backwards.

  • I said additional taxes. Many municipalities charge money for trash pickup. We don’t.

  • And I’m telling you we are. Just because it’s not itemize doesn’t mean you are not taxed for it.

    Trash pick is a budget item for the COH. Our property taxes along with sales taxes go into that budget. So we are taxed for it.

    Having additional tax for trash pick up doesn’t mean that trash service will improve. It’ll just go into the general fund.

  • Yes, but it would be more equitable to charge people whose trash is actually picked up for trash pickups. Those people who pay property taxes on apartments or commercial real estate or any other property with a dumpster do not get their trash picked up by the city of Houston, and they’re paying the same taxes that the rest of us are.

    I don’t want to pay more taxes, and I’m happy to let the Chinese restaurant down the street with the commercial dumpster subsidize my trash pickup. I am simply saying that given that there AREN’T extra fees, I’m willing to abide by whatever restrictions the City puts so I don’t have to make alternate trash pick up arrangements.

  • “From randomreader:
    I think landfills are capped and organics decompose slowly, if at all. Also, I like the ida that my leaves end up as plant food somewhere (like the leaf litter in a forest) and not permanently buried in a landfill.”
    The organic materials will decompose and cause the landfill to settle somewhat, decrease in total height and therefore allow for more trash to be added.

    Yes, landfills are capped, but landfill operators can take this settling into account a few years down the road, say 5 years after the top cap is put on, take the HDPE and soil layer off the top, and then begin adding trash for maybe another 3 years. If they plan it right, they can basically operate the landfill in several distinct cells, adding the trash to later cells while waiting for the earlier cells to decompose.

    This settling can be quite significant, depending on the composition of the MSW (Municipal Solid Waste), and whether or not the landfill is an actively managed “bioreactor” landfill (basically adding recirculated leachate or gas to enhance decomposition). You can sometimes recover 20% of the capacity of the landfill.

    Having more degradable material in the landfill can help increase the temperature of the landfill to a point so compostable yardwaste could be a good thing. Without knowing about the COH waste streams, landfill design, and leachate recirculation, I couldn’t say what the effects would be. I only hope that someone that works for the COH has already made these calculations.

  • Thirty years ago in Lansing, MI, the city decide to charge by the bag for trash pick-up and the bags cost 50 cents each – a ton of $ for a poor college student. But it pushed people to recycle and was totally fair – people with more trash pay more. Same applies with yard waste. What could be MORE fair?
    (Why do I pay the same health insurance premium as the 400 lb. smoker? Nothing fair about that.)
    Bill – this ain’t no Nanny State- it is pay as you go, making people responsible for their own waste. It is the opposite of Nanny State. You really need to turn off Fox News once in a while.

  • The county extension agent told us that while, generally speaking, mulching is good for your yard, the winter’s dead grass and oak leaves (if you have them) will change the soil pH too much for new growth to do well, assuming you have Saint Augustine. In other words, bag your clippings & leaves and don’t start mulching until your lawn is well established this spring.

  • I learned that organic matter does NOT decompose in a modern landfill. Not yard waste, eggshells or teabags. Materials there are compacted & layered and end up anaerobic in a matter of days. No decomposing happens. Also the site has a sealed bottom (to protect the water table)which stops soils’ microbes and critters from having access.
    On the other hand, in the framework of geologic time, all things will be turned over, smashed or similarly annihilated, so, No Worries!
    In the short term everybody, do like the landscapers do: Drive your yard waste around town in a trailer or pick-up truck. It will vanish quickly – directly relative to your driving speed.

  • There’s been a lot of debate on whether or not landfills should be sealed on the bottom. The original reason has to deal with contamination of the soil and ultimately ground water supply.

    More recently the research is showing that greatly impedes the decomposition.

    New techniques in managing landfills have helped greatly in increasing decomposition rates. Also, retrofitting landfills with methane gas collector systems allow a companion electric plant to produce electricity from burning the methane. This also speeds up decomposition since the they have to keep acquiring methane to run the plane.

    I don’t know of any facilities near in Texas, but I do know the Shreveport, LA has an impressive one that helped to lower electricity rates by adding supply to the grid.

  • There is a biomass/landfill plant in Harris County (Bluebonnet) and also Liberty, Chambers, Montgomery, and Galveston counties.

  • Cool.

    I was more up to speed in college since landfill design was part of my environmental courses.

    It’s much more involved than just dumping and compacting.

  • Is one suppose to call a TV Station to get attencion for the City O Houston to pickup leaves even when one follow rules and requirements of the City. We have complaint to the 311 number since 12/27/13. Our regular leave pickup is on Friday. It has been two weeks now that the bags have not been picked up. Either have I seen a truck picking up. I have call the 311 number now seven times since than. Get all kinds of excuses but no response. No wonder people but there leaves and black bags and dump them where ever. The city bags not only cost plenty of money because bio degrade-able but they degrade too easily and do not last from week to week. We have as of Today 20 city bags sitting our front and now pickup and the bags are going bad. As we speak to city employees we get put on a list of extra pickup but not service but the City does not fail to charge for the service. If we put in regular trash we are suppose to get a fine. It is not working for us. Mr is a 72 yrs old gentleman that is not in good health. Can something be done to correct the issues?????????????