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Recycle thyself

I suppose I had assumed that the city of Houston was already collecting recyclables separately from trash. Apparently, that was not the case, but it will be now.

The Solid Waste Management Department has implemented programs at breakneck speed to allow residents to recycle tree waste and empty various recyclables — including paper, plastic, even glass — into a single, large bin. In recent years, the department has even threatened to cut off some neighborhoods from curbside recycling if they did not improve their participation.

All the while, the city was missing a major source of plastic and paper: itself.

The City Council changed that on Wednesday, approving a five-year, $1.6 million contract to collect recyclables from the city’s 300-plus buildings, an effort expected to save at least 30 percent of the millions of pounds of garbage that city employees send annually to landfills.

Sarah Mason, a senior environmental analyst for Mayor Bill White, said the city tried years ago to implement a comprehensive recycling program for municipal buildings, but companies were willing to bid only on paper recycling, which is in effect now.

I’m not sure what changed – my understanding is that the market for recyclable material isn’t very good right now – but I’m glad that this has been done. The key going forward is to make sure that employees know to throw trash in the trash bins, and recyclables in recycling bins. Based on my workplace experience, that’s going to take a fairly aggressive education effort – as far as I can tell, most people throw whatever they have into whatever is at hand. Without doing something to get people to change their habits, the city will not meet whatever goals it’s setting for itself on this.

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