On Composting and Recycling at Earth Day Houston

Guest article by Steve Stelzer, Program Director at City of Houston Public Works and Engineering

Houston is moving forward in the quest for greener living! This year, among countless interesting booths of eco-friendly organizations and activities, AAH Earth Day at Discovery Green featured three waste stations that enabled visitors to responsibly dispose of items, most notably food waste to ultimately be composted offsite. Volunteers manned the stations to make sure that well-meaning visitors would make the right disposal choice, as recycling is just complex enough to be confusing to the average person.

Earth Day also featured a Recycling Zone, hosted by the City of Houston Solid Waste Management Department. They had people from the ReUse Warehouse, Living Earth Technologies, Houston Furniture Bank, American Textile Recycling Services, and Friends of Foam (with a foam recycling machine).

It was an interesting study in human nature to answer questions about the different material end-of-life stories. People basically believe that all plastic is recyclable (yet we only recycle about 20% of all plastic bottles – go figure). So the big story at this event was about what the recycling vendors will take to recycle. Generally, they don’t take shrink wrap or bags or wrappers or styrofoam. Grocery stores take grocery bags, and hardly anyone is taking shrink wrap and food wrappers from you and me. You can take styrofoam to the city’s Westpark Recycling Center, and the Recycling Zone was taking it at Earth Day.

Each station had a 5 gallon bucket to empty the beverage containers, as most (but not all) people don’t seem to finish their drink when they want to get rid of their bottle. Isn’t that strange?

To recycle a food container, the food needs to be consumed or put in the compost bin. The container does not have to be spotless, but it needs to be thoroughly empty and rinsed. And regular paper coffee cups are not recyclable (although the cardboard sleeve is), as they have a petroleum based coating that paper recyclers object to. Isn’t that strange? Let Starbucks know you would appreciate a recyclable cup in the near future….

All in all, it was a very successful operation, and Earth Day Houstonians were glad to become more knowledgeable about recycling. Now that Houston is expanding the automated recycling bin program to all Houston neighborhoods, it was a great opportunity to spread the know-how.