The city of Houston is fast turning me into a conspiracy theorist, and I was always so proud that I kept my head away from aluminum hats.
Besides a quick love affair with Mel Gibson’s “Conspiracy Theory” movie of 1997, with taped eyes and tapioca under seal, I never much cared about Area 51, moon landings or whether reptiles are running the world (based on the D.C. environment, I’m not sure that’s a conspiracy anymore).
The way I look at it, I’m just trying to figure out what I’m going to serve my children for dinner tonight, and I couldn’t care less if Bigfoot ate somebody’s hotdog.
After spending the past couple of weeks hearing from readers and watching our editor try to get information about the city of Houston’s recycling nightmare, I’m starting to believe we may have a budding theory on our hands: This recycling thing is one big hoax, and we’ve been conned into believing we’re saving the planet when we sort the butter beans from the paper plate from the aluminum can.
Of course, a lot of this isn’t really a theory. One of my favorite websites, TreeHugger.com, has an interesting headline on its site: “Recycling is BS Update: Even aluminum recycling is a mess.”
In October, PBS titled a segment: “Why your recyclables may have no place to go.” And last year, the New York Times had an in-depth report from Oregon titled: “Your Recycling Gets Recycled Right? Maybe, or Maybe Not.”
As you might surmise, these are not news sources keen on quelling the environmentalist in us all.
Meanwhile, here we sit in our little slice of north and northwest Houston, and our green recycle bins look the same way they did nearly a month ago – properly folded boxes junking our street sides.
Our investigative team here at The Leader (if team includes our editor, Adam Zuvanich, and me) began cramming phone lines and inboxes with questions about recycling, and for the most part, we got the same answers everyone else has received about the state of the city’s recycling program.
First, we’ve heard that our fleet of recycling trucks is aging and, unfortunately, many were damaged during Hurricane Harvey.
Next, we heard Hurricane Harvey washed so many recycle bins down the bayous that the city is having a hard time replacing them all.
After that, we’re told there’s a labor shortage, and because workers are finding better jobs, we can’t hire drivers to pick up the recyclables.
Then, we’re told that too much of our recycling fleet has mechanical issues, and we need to get those trucks fixed before the schedule can resume as normal.
Oh, and we’ve also been told that this is just a really busy time of the year for recycling, what with all the holiday packaging we dumped in our bins.
You know where I’m going with this, right? Let’s start with the asinine: It’s Hurricane Harvey’s fault. OK. So from the months of October 2017 until December 2018, we didn’t miss a single scheduled recycling pickup. All of a sudden, 14 months later, it’s Harvey’s fault?
Isn’t it fair to ask why our trucks worked for those 14 months and then – boom – they all stopped working in December?
And what about those missing bins? Have you seen a flotilla of recycling bins stuck in bayou walls? Is there any chance they all drifted to the Gulf and have created a new reef a few miles off the coast of Jamaica Beach? Somebody send a drone – I bet the footage is stunning.
Here’s another question: Why did the hurricane waters only carry off our green recycle bins but not our brown trash bins? Harvey was a monster, but he wasn’t that smart. Or was he?
Same for our recycling trucks. Did Harvey only target the green trucks and leave the blue garbage trucks alone?
Maybe we need to investigate if blue-colored trucks can withstand hurricane waters better than green-colored trucks.
That leads to my next question: If our green fleet has truly been ruined from silt (blue trucks are fine), and our green bins (not brown ones) are floating in international waters, what does it matter? We’ve got a labor shortage anyway, so even if the trucks work and the bins don’t rise, it wouldn’t matter. We still don’t have anybody to pick up our egg cartons.
Throw in the holiday excess excuse, and I’m sorry folks, but we’ve got a conspiracy theory on our hands. Blame the hurricane, blame the good economy and, if all else fails, blame Santa Claus.
As we’ve reported in today’s edition, no one has all the answers. In fact, most of the important parties in picking up our recyclables won’t even return our calls. Maybe they’re all fishing off the Great Green Reef, or maybe they don’t have answers you and I will like.
More questions need to be asked, and we’ll keep chasing answers. For starters, are we even recycling anything anymore? A lot of people – environmentalists included – believe trash, yard waste and recycling are now being taken to landfills. That’s not just in Houston, that’s everywhere, because China doesn’t want our trash anymore.
Meanwhile, our city is entering a new recycling contract with a company called FCC (and they aren’t communicating with us either, by the way).
So if you want a theory, here’s mine: First, all of our trash, whether in the green or brown bin, likely sits in a landfill right now (that’s true all over the country). Meanwhile, the city of Houston doesn’t want to talk about it because our mayor and many city council members are facing elections this fall, and they don’t want to suggest we have a problem. Next, there’s a part of the city’s administration that wants to punish voters for giving the firefighters a raise, and one way to stick it back to us is to say we can’t afford services we’ve long enjoyed. And here’s the kicker: At some point in the next year, you’re going to be asked to begin paying for recycling services (see Dallas for a reference).
Here’s my advice: Throw it all in the brown bin for now, because it’s probably all going to the same place anyway. After all, those brown bins are safe from hurricanes, and the blue trucks still run on time.