- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 16, 2014

HOUSTON (AP) - A low recycling rate is prompting Houston officials to consider building an innovative $100 million plant that would sort and separate mixed residential trash.

The city this week requested proposals from firms for its One Bin For All initiative. The project would allow people to mix recyclables, discarded food, yard clippings and other waste in a single container.

The processing plant, run by a private company, would then sort the contents, according to the Houston Chronicle (http://bit.ly/1kyWlnx ). Officials hope to nearly quadruple the city’s recycling rate. They aim to have taxpayers spend no more on waste disposal than they already do, with the plant operator keeping much of the revenue through a long-term contract allowing it to sell the city’s increased volume of recyclable materials.

Houston now sends 81 percent of its waste to landfills, leading to significant disposal costs. Officials want to cut that amount to 45 percent and then eventually to 25 percent.

As it stands now, 37 percent of households have no curbside recycling service. Of the 19 percent of waste that’s diverted from landfills, just 6 percent comes from recycling. The rest comes from a requirement that yard waste be placed in compostable bags.

“One Bin For All will revolutionize the way we handle trash, achieving high-volume recycling and waste diversion, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, new jobs and lower operating costs,” Mayor Annise Parker said in a statement.

But not everyone is so certain.

“It hasn’t worked in other places and it’s going to be a boondoggle if they ever move forward with it,” said Robin Schneider, executive director of Texas Campaign for the Environment. “I personally don’t think this will ever be built, and, in the meantime, they’re wasting time … time of lots of people that should be spent focusing on rolling out recycling to all of Houston.”

Laura Spanjian, Houston’s sustainability director, tells the Chronicle that the technology to automatically sort waste into plastics, metal, paper and glass, to be recycled as they are today, is proven. Sorting technology also is getting better at separating food scraps, which could be turned into fuel using anaerobic digestion, another proven technology, she said. Yard waste could be turned into mulch, as it is today.

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Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com