Wesley Krueger keeps telling city officials that his recycle bin has yet to be emptied, and he keeps getting the same explanations and assurances.
So the 85-year-old Mangum Manor resident has kept the filled green bin on his curb – for days, then weeks, now a month.
He keeps waiting for its contents to be scooped up.
“They’re just not getting picked up. Period,” Krueger said of his recyclables and those of his neighbors. “I don’t care when they put out schedules or when they say they’ll do it. That’s the problem. People are disgusted and rightly so.”
People all over northwest Houston – and beyond – can relate. The city’s Solid Waste Management Department, citing a shortage of skilled workers, a damaged and depleted fleet of trucks and growing volumes of recyclable materials discarded by residents, has struggled to maintain its every-other-week pickup schedule.
So area streets have been littered with filled-to-the-brim green bins. Like Krueger in Mangum Manor, residents of the Heights, Garden Oaks, Oak Forest and Shepherd Forest said this week that their recyclables had not been collected since late December.
The same residents had not experienced a delay in every-other-week trash pickup, which also is conducted by the Solid Waste department. The city does not charge fees for either service, which are included as part of taxes.
According to a Jan. 11 news release from the Solid Waste department, city residents are scheduled to have their recyclables picked up Jan. 26, Jan. 27, Jan. 30 or Feb. 2. Residents can find out which pickup date applies to them at http://mycity.houstontx.gov/mycityapps/mycity_serviceinfo_query.html.
“The city has been unable to keep pace with the growth of service and the best practice of equipment replacement,” said Irma Reyes, spokesperson for the Solid Waste department. “The latter issue is the primary driver to the delays in collection. The fleet is old and beyond its useful life.”
City councilwoman Ellen Cohen cited those reasons and others – placing some of the blame on Hurricane Harvey, which ravaged the area in 2017 – in an email received by Krueger on Jan. 9. She also said the city was set to receive 69 new trucks this summer and had lifted an otherwise-citywide hiring freeze to employ more truck drivers and mechanics.
Reyes said the city council recently approved hiring Texas Pride Disposal, which will assist the Solid Waste department in recyclable collection, for a one-year deal. Reyes said the city collects an average of 3,800-4,000 tons of recyclables per month, which it delivers to Waste Management or Independent Texas Recyclers for processing.
Once glass pickup is added under the city’s upcoming arrangement with FCC Environmental Services, which is expected to open a new processing facility in March, Reyes said the collection total will increase by at least 1,200 tons per month.
Meanwhile, residents are taking it upon themselves to help fill the city’s gaps in service. Shepherd Park Terrace resident Ben Gorby, who worked for Independent Texas Recyclers when it conducted special pickups in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, has offered to collect recyclables for a $10 fee.
“It’s not a very cost-effective way of going about it, but we can help out,” said Gorby, whose upstart business is called Double Oaks Recycling.
Oak Forest resident Kara Pokorny, whose overflowing green bin is kept closed by a bag of yard trimmings sitting atop it, said she has more bags of recyclables in the garage.
Down the street on Chantilly Lane, Travis Sales is dealing with pickup delay by not recycling all of his recyclables.
“When this happens and it gets overfull, I just start throwing the recycling in the (brown trash bin),” he said.
Like many residents, some of whom said they were unaware of the city’s updated pickup schedule or doubtful of its accuracy, Sales had left his recycle bin on his curb for a full week waiting for it to be emptied. He didn’t roll the bin back to his backyard because he didn’t want to miss a long-awaited pickup.
Fellow Oak Forest resident Martha Mears said the city’s schedule has been “very random.”
“It’s kind of like fishing,” she said. “If you don’t have a pole in the water, you’re not going to catch anything.”
Leaving bins on the street leads to problems, though. Along with being an eyesore, Heights resident Joel Alverson said it’s also a danger to motorists.
“I’ve seen some people hit them,” Alverson said. “My dad hit one by mistake and busted his lens on his truck.”
Krueger, who has lived in Mangum Manor for 60 years, said he’s seen Solid Waste drivers run over bins with the collection trucks. He considers those incidents, along with the extended delay in recycling pickup, a poor return on the investment of his taxpayer dollars.
Krueger said such delays have become more frequent and pronounced over the years, and he’s worried the problem will get worse before it gets better.
“I love Houston, but the city council and the mayor (Sylvester Turner) are not doing their job,” Krueger said. “All we get is, ‘We need more money. We need more people. We need more trucks.’
“That’s not going to cut it. We’re proud as Houston. Do you want us to wind up like New York, with all the garbage out in the street? I’d hate to see that in Houston, but it’s getting that way. People are tired.”
Return to recycling
Here are upcoming dates for recycling pickup, categorized by regular pickup days, according to Houston’s Solid Waste Management Department.
Saturday, Jan. 26
Monday & Tuesday B-week
Sunday, Jan. 27
Thursday & Friday B-week
Wednesday, Jan. 30
Monday & Tuesday A-week
Saturday, Feb. 2
Thursday & Friday A-week