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InsideOut At City Hall: Garbage In, Garbage Out


Thoughts on recycling, pet control, and more.

AnniseBy Annise D. Parker

Some of you were alarmed recently by letters notifying you of the city’s intention to end curbside recycling in your low-recycling neighborhood.

Despite a recent recycling contest and an “individual” automated call from the mayor, some neighborhoods just aren’t responding. You may have seen the New York Times front-page video clip in early August about Houston’s low rate of curbside recycling—worst in the country. Great PR for Houston.

I recycle and believe it’s the right thing to do for a host of environmental reasons. The problem is that recycling costs money. The collection and sorting costs are offset by the income received from the sale of the collected items. That ratio is negative, and subject to the swings of commodity pricing of newsprint, aluminum, and so forth. Collection centers are more cost-effective (you pay the transportation and sorting costs), but still rarely break even. And fewer people take advantage of them versus the convenience of curbside pickup.

Landfills are cheap around here, and the city actually signed a contract guaranteeing that city garbage trucks will deliver a certain amount of garbage to private landfills. Yes, you read that right. So why strain yourself, and spend more city tax dollars, to push curbside recycling when it just doesn’t pay—at least according to your solid waste contract? Houston, we have a big recycling problem, and we can solve it in so many better ways.

For starters, we could make the schedule more reasonable. I have enough trouble remembering to haul out my garbage bin on garbage day. Then I have to remember to recycle, but on a different day . . . and only every other week . . . and not to put it out until the morning because it might rain or the aluminum scavengers will root through it first.

Then there’s the volume. We take the Houston Chronicle and the Wall Street Journal and receive an inordinate amount of junk mail. Fortunately, the WSJ gets recycled at the office. The daily paper alone fills more than one city-provided green bin in a two-week span. We use two bins, but I have to find a place to store them and the overflowing mound of paper. If I want to take it to a city depository, I have to take it during certain hours and probably make a special trip. West University offers a much more convenient unstaffed site.

The city needs to incentivize and penalize. Houston is the only major city without a garbage fee, and I doubt we will ever have one. Some cities have a “Pay as You Throw” program where your bill is based on the amount of trash generated. Most issue somewhat smaller garbage cans. If people throw out more garbage, they pay for extra containers. Houston does offer extra containers, but our containers are larger to begin with, brimming with plastics, cans, cardboard, and yard waste that could be recycled.  

The city needs to collect more recyclables. We’re finally collecting all plastics except Styrofoam and No. 6 at curbside. We stopped accepting glass several years ago because of a double whammy when the only local glass recycler closed and broken glass contaminated the other items and reduced their commodity value. You can still take glass to a city depository.

When I co-chaired the Mayor’s Task Force on Solid Waste, we recommended restarting the recycling program for organic waste (such as trees and yard trimmings bagged at the curb) and diverting such clean organics collected as heavy trash to mulching, chipping, or biofuel applications. The potential exists to cut our heavy trash volume in half, saving significant landfill space and creating a new revenue stream. I am pleased that the mayor is moving forward with that.

An incentive for this program and other neighborhood recycling efforts could include   returning recycling revenues to top recycling neighborhoods for civic improvements.

The city is set to open a Green Building Resource Center at 3300 Main to showcase green building and the amazing work done in C&D recycling (construction and demolition). With construction materials and transportation costs skyrocketing, smart business owners are recycling concrete, carpet, wood, shingles, just about everything except food. And they burn that for fuel in some places.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to walk through a city park on Sunday without seeing all those glass and plastic bottles? Some states and cities pay for returned bottles. Houston parks don’t even provide separate trash bins for cans and plastic. What a waste.

BARC

I was as shocked as anyone to read early last month that progressive BARC director Kent Robertson resigned after only two years. He cited personal reasons for stepping down from the city’s Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care. He will be missed. Under his leadership, BARC began to resemble a 21st-century city animal services division. He expanded adoptions, upgraded BARC facilities and care, generated positive publicity, and worked with Friends of BARC (www.friendsofbarc.org/).

Robertson also   made a public commitment to moving Houston toward a reasonable no-kill policy. I say reasonable because, under the best circumstances, even official no-kill shelters must euthanize sick or feral animals. Many cities and shelters across the country are moving toward no-kill and low-cost spay and neuter as humane solutions to the overwhelming dog and cat population. Houston has been blessed with tireless animal advocates like Sean Hawkins of Saving Animals Across Borders (formerly of SNAP), who helped persuade PetSmart to open five Fix Houston low-cost spay and neuter/vaccination clinics (www.savinganimals.org/). The first one has opened at 17575 Katy Freeway (281/578-0252).  

For too long, the city treated BARC like an ugly stepchild. Mayor White boosted its funding and appointed an active animal advisory group to change course. I hope he will appoint a new BARC director to take Houston to the next level.

I never pass up an opportunity to plug BARC and the many great animals waiting to be adopted for only $55. You can search online through   the BARC website or through www.petfinder.com by typing in your ZIP code. The SPCA also offers a searchable database on its website (www.spca.org). As you may know, the SPCA handles all animal cruelty investigations for the city and county.

Voter Cards

It’s time to pull out your voter registration card and make sure it’s current. Voter registration for the November 4 election is 30 days before, or Monday, October 6. That election includes not only president—with polls close even in Texas—but also U.S. senator, state reps and senators, and county officials such as sheriff and judges. If you’re not sure you’re registered, you can check online at the county voter website, www.harrisvotes.org. You can also download a voter application here,   pick up one at most libraries, or call 713/36-VOTE (8683) and one will be mailed to you.

Annise D. Parker is Houston’s third-term city controller and one of the highest-ranking openly GLBT-elected municipal officials in any of the 10 largest U.S. cities. Her website is www.houstoncontroller.org. The City Controller’s webpage is www.houstontx.gov/controller/index.html. To receive the controller’s news-letter, send an e-mail to [email protected] houston.net.


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Annise Parker

Former Houston Mayor Annise Parker is the President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund and LGBTQ Victory Institute. A complete list of Victory Fund-endorsed candidates is available at victoryfund.org/ourcandidates. They currently have 16 endorsed candidates running in Texas.

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