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Tyson Sowell: Making Plans for a Brighter Future

The following is from a series of guest posts that I will be presenting over the next few weeks.

Tyson Sowell

In my previous article, I talked about the phasing out of single-use check-out bags being just one step the City needs to take in addressing its growing waste problem. In the past, Houston has looked at waste in an ad hoc fashion doing a little here and a little there hoping that it will eventually we’ll get there but without having a real idea as to where there is. And this is the fundamental problem with how we talk about the waste problem.

Houstonians produce more than 13 million pounds of waste per day or more than 4.7 billion pounds per year. Of this astronomical amount of waste, only about 18% actually gets recycled. That is a lot of waste filling up our landfills every year.

By 2030, Houston’s population is expected to increase by about 700,000 people, increasing waste generation to 6.3 billion pounds per year. Houston will always be far behind in the recovery of these valuable resources if it continues ad hoc business as usual waste policies.

Believe it or not, waste is actually a valuable commodity. Most of what we throw away are resources that could be reprocessed and used in the creation of new products for cheaper than extracting virgin materials. The sale of these resources makes money for the city and the reprocessing of these resources can create jobs right here in Houston.

In fact, the Tellus Institute released a study last November that found that if the US were to recover 75% of these wasted resources, more than 2 million jobs could be added to the “green economy.” In Texas, this equates to more than 50,000 jobs.

So how do we literally stop throwing away jobs and money?

The City of Houston really began addressing this problem back in 2007 and over a few years recycling services expanding. However, most recently recycling service expansion has slowed and the rate at which the City plans to expand is too slow to address the waste problems the City will face in the future.

Currently, only third of city serviced residents – mostly people in single-family homes – have the large carts for recycling. Another third have the small bins but the City wants to phase those out and another third having nothing. This means that if the City seeks to expand recycling services it still must address those homes without any recycling now and those with the small bins.

Additionally, about half of the City’s residents live in multi-unit dwellings, which the City does not provide waste services, or get waste service from Home Owner Associations. These arrangements, along with commercial entities, make improving recycling rates in Houston difficult using our current ad hoc method for solving this problem.

This means that in order for Houston to really begin solving the waste problem, adding thousands of jobs to the new “green economy,” and making Houston a leader in resource recovery, the City needs to create and implement a comprehensive, long-term, resource recovery plan. This plan needs to layout and have benchmarks for how and when Houston will begin diverting a substantial percentage of our waste from landfills and putting those resources back into our economy.

Houston is the global leader in oil and gas production, a leader in construction and development, the most diverse city in the country, and is a national powerhouse for medical and biomedical research. There is no reason Houston can’t lead in resource recovery and lead the nation in a “green economy” and a brighter future. We have the talent, the intelligence, and the opportunity to create the model city for the 21st century.

Tyson Sowell is the Houston Program Director for Texas Campaign for the Environment – a statewide, grassroots, environmental policy advocacy organization. You can learn more at, at and follow on twitter at

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