Is recycling a ruse in the City of Houston?
“That’s been my concern,” Houston City Councilwoman Brenda Stardig said. “My greatest fear is we’re making two runs for regular trash and then recycling, and needing all those drivers and those separate trucks, and then on top of it heavy trash, and then it’s all going to the same place.
“Wouldn’t that be horrific?”
According to recent reports by a Houston television station, that might be true. KHOU 11, citing video evidence and anonymous city employees, reported that truck drivers have mixed recyclables with trash and delivered loads of recyclable-only materials to city garbage facilities – all at the direction of their supervisors and with all of it ending up in a landfill.
A Houston Solid Waste Management Department spokesperson told the station that a mixed load ended up in a landfill, according to KHOU. The city has launched an investigation into the matter, with Mayor Sylvester Turner telling reporters last week that city employees found to have violated Houston’s recycling pickup policy could face disciplinary action.
A Solid Waste Management statement released by the mayor’s office said the department “affirms that it has never approved any instructions for employees to collect black and green containers simultaneously” and does not condone that action. The statement also said, “The city wants to move forward to make sure this will not happen in the future.”
Mike Crippen, who has participated in curbside recycling during the 12 years he has lived in Oak Forest, said city officials “need to tell us” if they are not recycling the materials they collect from green bins.
“Why should I go to the trouble of separating everything and using a separate bin?” he asked. “If they’re not going to recycle anyway, I might as well just throw it all away.”
While the global market for recyclable materials has dwindled in recent years, the city recently entered into a recycling contract with Spain-based FCC Environmental Services. The company opened a new 120,000-square foot facility in northeast Houston in March.
Irma Reyes, a spokesperson for the Solid Waste Management Department, said in January that the city expected to collect at least 5,000 tons of recyclables per month once the agreement with FCC began. She also said it costs the city $3.25 per home per month for recycling collection. There are no fees for the department’s services, which are covered by taxes.
When asked in January if any recyclables were going to a landfill, Reyes said, “Despite the best rumors that could be started, no city collected material has been deposited in a landfill. Although residents may see a blue truck collect their recycling (green can), they can rest easy knowing that we work to harvest the material for beneficial reuse or remanufacture. The department values our customers’ commitment to recycling, even during these challenging times.”
Oak Forest resident John Weaver and Shepherd Forest resident Shelby Lefevre both said they would have a problem if their recyclables were not actually being recycled by the city.
Stardig said, “Anything’s possible.” She also said city leaders should be honest with taxpayers.
“The mayor has said he’s going to investigate, but we need to make sure that everyone follows up and follows through,” Stardig said. “If anyone has any other reports, I’m asking them to contact their council member with that information.”
Crippen said recycling is an important undertaking whether the city participates or not. So he wants to keep doing so however he can.
“Maybe some third party would step up and we could take it to them instead if we have to,” Crippen said. “I would do that if that’s what it took to get it recycled. I would hope that the city would do it for me, but if they won’t, I hope there’s another way.”