Could Be Rewarding

Houston is telling residents to use it or lose it. With a sluggish recycling rate, the city has unveiled an initiative that rewards active neighborhoods with cash and makes losing the service a possibility for others.

Twenty percent of residents with access to curbside recycling, which includes newsprint and commingled recyclables, take advantage of it, according to Houston Mayor Bill White. To boost participation, the city will reward four subdivisions with $5,000 based on their participation rate and amount recycled.

Using those same statistics, the city will evaluate whether to suspend the recycling program, which does not pay for itself, in neighborhoods with poor participation. Currently, 162,000 single-family residences of the 450,000 homes that receive solid waste services from the city are offered curbside recycling. Several neighborhoods are on a waiting list, some of which have been on it for nearly a year and a half, according to Thomas “Buck” Buchanan, solid waste management director.

Buchanan attributes the recycling rate in part to the way homes were selected to receive the service. While some subdivisions have an 85 percent participation rate, others are much lower. “We started in some neighborhoods at the request of a few,” he says. “We probably could have done that better.”

The third aspect of the program is an educational element, which will include inserts in newspapers and water bills, day camps, visits to school clubs and phone calls.

Buchanan says the response from residents has been favorable, especially from pro-recyclers and people that want, but don't yet have, recycling services. “We're hopeful that we are providing the service in the neighborhoods that really want it,” he says.