Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

On recycling glass

Not sure about this.

Considered only in terms of the city’s short-term budget and Waste Management’s profits, perhaps the decision to stop recycling glass makes sense. But it wasn’t popular at the symposium, which was hosted by UH’s Center for Sustainability and Resilience and the Houston Advanced Research Center.

There, speakers suggested that decision ignores bigger long-term issues — economic development, the environment and emerging technologies — that Houston and other cities should consider.

When waste management practices are at their best, recycling isn’t just an add-on to garbage collection. It can be key to meeting economic and environmental goals. So when our collection service says that recycling glass costs too much, we need to view that cost in the larger context.

Consider this: In the Houston-Galveston region, recycling has created approximately 12,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs. That amounts to $1.5 billion in employee income.

And there’s certainly room to create even more of those jobs. Lee Reisinger, former director of engineering at Proctor & Gamble and founder of the consulting firm ReiTech, suggested Houston could create its own locally developed tissue paper by blending recycled products, such as newsprint, with virgin wood pulp.

So why aren’t we creating those jobs? It’s because the current recycling system diverts the easiest and most profitable materials into a weakened commodities market — without considering the bigger picture.

A better option has already been proposed. In 2013, with support of a $1 million grant from the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge, the city proposed the One Bin for All system. Everything, even contaminated paper, could be put in a single bin that’s wheeled to the curb for pickup. New and emerging technologies would make it possible sort all the materials for reuse. The city would leave the sorting and sales to its recycling partner, whose profits would offset the cost of new technology.

Under financial and technical concerns, support for the proposal faltered last year. But it shouldn’t have.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but One Bin For All is, politically speaking, pining for the fjords these days. It’s not that “support faltered” for it, it’s that Mayor Turner declared he had no interest in it at this time, and possibly ever. Making a case for One Bin starts with making a case to Mayor Turner to rethink that position. Given the challenging economic environment for recycling as well as the still-unproven nature of the One Bin concept, that’s a tough case to make. It’s even harder if you don’t start by addressing the political reality of the situation.

Related Posts:

Comments are closed.