On a recent Saturday morning, around 20 volunteers gathered to clean up trash along the Houston Ship Channel. Armed with pickers and trash bags, they started tackling a small “trash beach” across the channel from a refinery. The sand was barely visible below the piles of discarded items covering the beach: tires, a child’s Croc, tennis balls, a plastic toy kitchen.
“We’re just surrounded by plastic bottles,” said Amy Dinn, an environmental lawyer and one of the volunteers. Beneath the larger items, pieces of styrofoam coated the ground, giving it the appearance of snow from a distance.
“We’ve seen way worse,” Dinn said.
The amount of trash that ends up in Houston’s waterways is substantial. In 2021 alone, Buffalo Bayou Partnership (BBP), one of the main organizations that cleans up trash in and along the bayous, removed nearly 2,000 cubic yards of trash – enough to fill more than 160 commercial dump trucks.
[Buffalo Bayou Partnership field manager Robby] Robinson said one solution he’d like to see statewide is a bottle deposit where consumers receive money for returning plastic containers.
“If you give them value, you don’t find them on your shores anymore, they end up back into the system getting recycled,” he said.
Oregon was the first state to implement such a system, and its program is considered to be the most successful. In 2019, the state reached a 90% return rate, meaning 90% of all items covered by its deposit program were returned for recycling.
Bottle bills have been introduced several times in Texas, but have never passed. A report prepared by an independent consultant for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in 2021, recommends further investigating a bottle bill for the state.
Beyond legislative action, Robinson said it’s also important to make people aware of the problem, which is where volunteer groups come in.
“Most people never get to see how horrific this problem is,” Robinson said.
You can click over to see more pictures if you want to get an idea of that. I like the idea of a bottle deposit, especially given its track record, but that’s still one small piece of the puzzle. We as a society need to do a better job of, you know, not littering. The solutions for that are a lot more complicated.