One bin to rule them all

This would be an innovative approach to deal with Houston’s unacceptably low recycling rate.

Under what is being called “Total Reuse: One Bin for All,” residents would wheel everything to the curb in one barrel and let the city sort it out.

If Houston can find a private-sector partner to help it build what could be a $100 million plant that would separate bottles from cans from paper from food from e-waste from yard clippings, the city would vault from one of the nation’s laggards in municipal recycling to one of the paragons.


City solid waste officials traveled to Germany last year to look at a facility there. Laura Spanjian, the city’s sustainability director, toured a plant this year in the city of Roseville, in northern California, that she said is, perhaps, the closest thing in the country to what Houston envisions. The Clinton Climate Initiative has lent Houston a full-time expert for free to help review the technology.

The plant would have conveyor belts, ballistic shredders, optical scanners, density separators and other technologies to sift from the contents of your trash can everything that can be recycled. At peak performance, the city could resell some of the dry materials and compost the food, or even put it into a digester that produces methane gas to power the facility. While all of these technologies have been put to widespread use, they have not been integrated into the kind of catch-all operation Houston envisions, Spanjian said.

“It relies on technology to look at every single material and decide whether that can be reused,” she said.

This is all very much in the conceptual phase right now. There’s no proposal and no funding mechanism for anything. I like the idea, and one reason why is because people are often very bad about separating trash from recyclables on their own, at least in public venues. I don’t think I’ve ever been to an outdoor event in Houston that had “garbage” bins and “recycling” bins whose contents weren’t indistinguishable. People either don’t notice, can’t tell the difference, or just don’t care. I recognize that’s not the problem this is designed to solve, but it is part of it. I hope this pans out, it would be a big step forward and could only enhance our coolness factor, too. Swamplot has more.

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3 Responses to One bin to rule them all

  1. Bill Shirley says:

    IMHO, I think they should pick up the recycling once a week and the trash every two weeks (or give us smaller trash cans).

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