recycling: Houston Expects A Lift From Automating Yard Collection

High yard waste volumes are driving the city of Houston to improve its collection efficiency and, according to a recent pilot program, automated carts could be the answer.

Houston, located in a sub-tropical climate with an extended growing season, discovered that the weight of yard trimmings constitutes as much as 32 percent of its residential waste stream (see chart). In response, the city's solid waste management department began a separate yard trimmings collection program in 1993 and, currently, collects this material once a week from 85,000 homes. By fall 1997, the department anticipates this number to rise to more than 160,000 homes.

In September 1996, the city began a pilot program to test the effectiveness of collecting yard trimmings in automated containers. Due to their established civic associations, subdivisions were expected to have high participation levels, and thus were selected to be evaluated on set-out rates and volume. A study, completed in October 1995, showed that the average weekly set-out rate was 11.6 percent, with each home averaging 2.6 bags of yard trimmings.

Of those evaluated, six subdivisions were selected to create four routes with an average of 1,500 homes per route. The routes were created without any change in the residents ex-isting service. As a bonus, the 90- and 65-gallon green carts used in the program were manufactured from 50 percent re-cycled plastic - the highest percentage of plastic used in the United States.

The first step in establishing the pilot was to educate the civic associations and appropriate city council members. Following an introductory letter, meetings were scheduled with the individual organizations. After assuring association cooperation, an informational letter with a postage-paid response card was mailed to every address in the chosen subdivisions.

Containers and a detailed brochure were distributed to a list of citizens responding prior to September 3, 1996. Following the first collection day, an additional 274 carts and informational brochures were delivered to citizens who did not respond to the initial inquiry but still put out their yard trimmings in bags.

Additional educational efforts to increase participation levels and decrease contamination included a press release to area media. Also, citizens received information from their subdivision newsletters, individual letters or brochures.

Leaf drop and spring cleaning seasons posed a special problem with the amount of material to be recycled because automated carts would not hold all of the materials generated. As a result, an additional pickup was scheduled to collect excess materials. This service also is provided to customers who regularly compost their green waste.

The city's manual collection program diverts approximately 1,300 tons of yard trimmings per month, saving taxpayers more than $260,000 per year in landfill costs. This program, coupled with the pilot, also reduced the amount of material disposed in area landfills by 15,600 tons per year. By eliminating manual loading, the automated program can improve efficiencies with lower staf-fing levels, increased productivity and reduced job-related injuries.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Mike Frisch-korn recently announced his resignation as president and CEO of the Environmental Industries Association (EIA), Washington, D.C. Bruce J. Parker, deputy CEO and general counsel, will be acting in his stead until a replacement is found.

Frischkorn cited differences with the EIA Board of Trustees over the association's growth strategy - the board wants EIA to focus on core waste industry needs - as his reason for departing.

Frischkorn joined EIA in April 1994, a few months after it was created in a restructuring of the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA). The restructuring subdivided NSWMA into its three major industry segments: solid and medical waste services, equipment manufacturing and distribution and hazardous waste services.