Can Houston Overcome its Recycling Problem by Sorting Everything?

Houston's 14 percent recycling rate is downright dismal (San Francisco's is 80 percent). The city's entry in the Bloomberg Philanthropies' Mayor's Challenge seeks to change this by taking the onus off of individuals to decide what's recyclable.

Ariel Schwartz reports on Houston's Total Reuse initiative, a program that pulls together existing technologies to create a new paradigm in waste disposal. If the project is successful, it could raise that dismal recycling rate to 75 percent. 

"Instead of trying to overhaul local culture and regulation, the city is working on an ambitious plan to build the first total material resource recovery facility--an innovation that would allow residents to toss all their trash into a single bin, let technology to do all the sorting, and emerge in the end with usable products," says Schwartz.

Based on extensive research into what other metropolises have implemented, Laura Spanjian, Houston’s sustainability director, developed a system that "combines many of these technologies: It would take everyone’s trash in one bin and send it to a facility that pulls out every piece of recyclable material and separates out food waste. Recyclable commodities would be sold, and food waste would be turned into compost or put in an anaerobic digester to power facilities or trucks. Another portion of the waste would be turned into gasoline."

"Spanjian says that she would be thrilled if Houston won the $5 million Mayor’s Challenge, but that the process is going ahead regardless. 'Having the grand prize money would help us go faster, help us implement to initial pieces that much quicker,' she says. 'But we’re on a path to implement this.'"

Full Story: Houston’s Plan To Make Landfills Extinct


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