The long-term recycling deal

I noticed this when it was posted last week but didn’t give it much thought at the time.

There’s a 20-year no-bid contract on today’s City Council agenda.

That’s legal because it’s an amendment to an existing contract, not a new contract.

But it’s still got Councilman Ed Gonzalez‘s attention. He tagged it last week so that it could not be voted on until today. And today, City Hall sources say, Gonzalez will propose sending it back to the administration to have the recycling contract bid competitively.

“The markets are emerging and the value of the commodity is emerging,” Councilman C.O. Bradford said Tuesday, and that emerging value is increasing. “So why would we lock ourselves into a 20-year deal?”

Environmentalists are also questioning the wisdom of the contract.

“We think it makes common sense that it should be bid because you’re going to get a better deal for Houston taxpayers if you have an open, competitive process,” said Zac Trahan of the Texas Campaign for the Environment.

The effort by CM Gonzalez to send this back was successful. Trahan emailed me later with some background on all that happened. From his email:

Houston had a short-term contract (through 2012) with Abitibi when they owned the facility, then WMI bought the recycling center, and then city officials begun working on a long-term recycling contract extension with WMI. We found out about this contract about two weeks ago, and together with allies at the SEIU Texas State Council, the Apollo Alliance and the Houston Sierra Club, we’ve been working to delay its adoption and make sure it goes through a competitive “request for proposal” process instead. At today’s City Council meeting it seems we were successful.

Of course, our organizations have spent the past couple weeks communicating with the Solid Waste Management Department, Mayor Parker and all City Council Members about this contract. We spoke at length with Sustainability Director Laura Spanjian. We sent email alerts to our members urging them to contact Houston officials. Our phone-banking staff asked our members to participate by calling Mayor Parker and other Council Members directly.

However, we also reached out to other waste and recycling companies to gauge their level of interest in submitting a formal proposal. Two companies – Texas Disposal Systems, out of Austin, and Greenstar, here in Houston – have expressed interest so far. These companies both sent letters to Mayor Parker and the Council Members communicating that they would indeed bid and compete for the contract if given the opportunity. A representative from Greenstar even attended today’s city council meeting to testify to this effect. During the meeting Council Member Gonzalez made a motion to send the contract back to the administration to go through the RFP process, and that motion prevailed. We see this as a victory for recycling and a victory for Houston taxpayers, because an open, competitive bidding process will certainly result in the best recycling contract and the best deal for Houston residents.

Of course this issue is far from settled. We’re only beginning our work. Next we must ensure the RFP itself is designed with the right criteria in mind – not just that Houston officials should go with the “lowest bidder,” but that we should identify the best overall recycling program for our money. Then we must work to see that the best proposal really is selected, and to defeat efforts by any company or companies attempting to use their connections at city hall to influence the process. We’ll keep you posted as this process moves forward.

Here’s a copy of a letter that was sent to Mayor Parker by Trahan and folks from the Apollo Alliance, the Sierra Club, and the SEIU Texas State Council. I’m glad to see that this deal will now be competitively bid, and I think Trahan and his colleagues are correct to think in terms of the deal in more than just lowest-cost terms. For example, according to that blog post the deal that had been in the works with WMI called for them to give the city 15,000 big green recycling carts this year and 1,500 carts a year thereafter. That sounds like a lot until you realize that as of February there were 270,000 households serviced by Houston’s Solid Waste department that do not have the big bins. I’d like to see the speed at which the companies would get these wheely-bins to the public be part of the bid evaluation. For that matter, I’d like to see what ideas these guys have for expanding the recycling program beyond the 375,000 households that Solid Waste serves. Do they have any thoughts about getting apartments, office buildings, restaurants, or other commercial establishments involved? This is a 20-year deal, we should be thinking big. Think about what you’d like to see and let your Council members know.

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6 Responses to The long-term recycling deal

  1. AWHeights says:

    RUDH was discussing this issue last week. Another give-away that doesn’t serve the public. So glad to see the Texas Campaign for the Environment rally to quash this no bid nonsense and get some competitive offers in the door. Maybe this is the start of CMs showing some backbone and standing up against Mayor Parker’s efforts for special interests? Maybe. Need more evidence.

  2. Cb says:

    A 20 year contract extension. How insane is that! Talk about a lack of foresight. Who knows what the future will bring. This only benefits the current contractor and no one else!

  3. Do you guys have the same problem with recycling we do in Baytown? They started up the program a couple of years ago and for the longest time one of the most recyclable materials, glass, wasn’t allowed to be put in the recycle bins for pickup!

  4. Ross says:

    I can’t believe anyone connected to the City would push for a 20 year contract. It’s impossible to plan that far ahead. I can see a 5 year contract with potential renewals, but the renewals ought to be subject to review.

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  6. Ron in Houston says:

    I’m not opposed to the limited use of “no bid” contracts but a 20 year one? I’m really beginning to wonder what’s going on down at city hall.

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