So what happened to One Bin for All?

KUHF asks the question.

It has been almost three years since the city won a $1 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies for the One Bin For All concept, which would let Houstonians throw all their waste in one bin, to be separated for recycling later.

Former Mayor Annise Parker tried to start the project, but it never took off under her watch.

On Dec. 31, Parker’s last work day, the city released a 10-page progress report.

It only says that contract negotiations for a sorting facility are ongoing and that there is currently a proposal on the table that would be privately financed. The city is not saying who that contractor is.

“You’ve got to wonder whether this is a project that the city is really committed to – why they would wait until the very last minute to release that report,” said Melanie Scruggs, Houston program director of Texas Campaign for the Environment.


At this point at least, Mayor Sylvester Turner is not trying to move the project along.

“I am almost singly focused on two things,” Turner said when asked about One Bin. “And that’s infrastructure in relation to this pothole problem and then getting our arms around our financial challenges.”

See here for some background. A copy of the report is embedded in the story. I also asked Mayor Parker about this in my exit interview with her. She said at the time that there was a report that was about to come out on the status of One Bin; this is the first media mention of that report I’ve seen. She said in the interview that she believes the technology is there, but acknowledged that right now the economics are not. At this point I will be surprised if this goes anywhere. There’s no champion for it, and even if you agree that the technology is feasible now, the gloom in the recycling market will be a huge obstacle. Given all that, I expect the debate to eventually turn to topics that will be more amenable to folks like the TCE and other One Bin opponents, namely expanding recycling for apartments and maybe some form of dedicated composting. Note that I said “eventually” – if anything happens before 2017, maybe 2018, I’ll be surprised. The one thing that could change this is if a garbage fee gets put into the mix for dealing with those financial challenges. I wouldn’t expect that to happen, but it’s not out of the question. Beyond that, my guess is that this is the last we will hear of One Bin. Something like it may come up again under another name, but One Bin as we know it is likely no more.

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2 Responses to So what happened to One Bin for All?

  1. One of the paragraphs you snipped notes that Texas Campaign for the Environment opposes One Bin. Melanie Scruggs has spent a lot of time and energy educating ecology-minded consumers about how bad an idea it is.

    What the KUHF article fails to mention is that TCE doesn’t just doubt that recyclables will remain unsullied by trash, but has evidence based on similar programs in other cities. TCE advocates source separation and a Zero Waste Plan instead.

    It’s a complicated picture, but this document explains it quite thoroughly:

  2. Melanie says:

    Thanks, Charles, for covering this issue consistently over the years. I agree with your assessment that this is probably the end for the project in this form. We hope that since Houston currently has no public document setting out a solid waste plan for how it will divert waste from landfills, our leaders will take the opportunity this year to set out a plan for Houston with ambitious recycling goals.

    Check out the sustainability planning efforts from LA, New York and Chicago:

    You’ll see some common themes in major cities’ sustainability plans: diversifying the economy, equity, job safety, waste diversion and climate resiliency. We would benefit from a planning process like this and it would have to include solutions for trash, including illegal dumping. While we may not be able to fund all the changes all at once, we likely have 8 years with Turner to make some concrete progress every year on waste diversion. Many local organizations including labor leaders and environmental groups will hopefully keep the political will going now and moving forward.

    Here’s the most recent letter from some of our coalition leaders, FYI:

    On a side note, I don’t agree with Parker’s assessment that, “the technology is there” for the one bin. If there were evidence to support that claim, it should have been in the report released on Dec. 31st. Supporting evidence was not there, and neither were counter arguments. The report did not mention the recent failure of the state of the art facility in Montgomery, AL for instance.

    The proper role for mixed waste processing is as a last resort for waste headed to disposal after source separated recycling and composting is in place on the front end. California is having success with that kind of system, but they have a statewide mandate for 50% diversion from landfills and a statewide goal of 75%. Florida has a statewide diversion mandate as well. This article from a composting trade magazine does a good job explaining statewide diversion policies across the country. 9 states have diversion mandates, and Texas is not one of them yet:

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