Houston Sucks at Recycling

"You can't make us," says defiant citizenry

I grew up in Houston, and I remember its miles and miles of glass and concrete interrupted by bursts of piney woods well. Anytime I go back, there's a whole lot less piney woods and a whole lot more Taco Cabana outlets, but I guess that's progress in the fourth largest city in America.

I also remember almost never recycling. As the trend arose in the late 80s and early 90s, you'd see it on television or read about it, but never do it. If I asked my dad how to recycle a soda can, he replied with, "Recycle? You mean throw away? Put it in the trash."

Things have barely changed: H-town is the worst recycler among the nation's 30 largest cities. While environmental overachievers San Francisco and Los Angeles manage to recycle 69 and 62 percent of their trash, Houston diverts only 2.6 percent of waste away from landfills. Some wannabe recyclers have waited for city recycling bins for over ten years.

The reasons for Houston's wastefulness are many. Some claim that the city's sprawling layout and lack of zoning conspire with cheap landfill costs to keep meaningful, citywide recycling from happening; meanwhile, aspiring recyclers have to lug their recyclables to one of only nine full-service deposit stations. Anyone who's experienced Houston's unfathomable sprawl knows that's not enough.

Worst of all, it seems Houstonians just might not care enough about recycling, and sometimes they even seem to project an anti-recycling mentality.

“We have an independent streak that rebels against mandates or anything that seems trendy or hyped up,” said Mayor Bill White, who favors expanding the city’s recycling efforts. “Houstonians are skeptical of anything that appears to be oversold or exaggerated."

“There are cultures that just don’t get it, and, unfortunately, Houston is one of them,” (said locally renowned chef Monica Pope.)

Way to pitch in, hometown. Might I remind you I work in Boulder? After word of this gets out, I'll be dodging craft rocks and compost bombs all month.

In the meantime, you guys just enjoy yourself at one of 37 convenient Taco Cabana locations.

— Ted Alvarez

Houston resists recycling, independent streak is cited (NY Times)