October 23, 2020
The City of Houston has released a draft 20 Year Long Range Plan for the City's Solid Waste Management Department (SWMD). This is a comprehensive plan that addresses the future financial sustainability of the SWMD, the various waste and recycling services to be provided, future waste reduction efforts, possible future landfill needs, and illegal dumping issues.
This draft plan is a valuable document; it provides citizens with an overview of the all of the diverse services and operations of the SWMD and how the Department plans to address future waste management, waste reduction, and recycling efforts.
The draft plan documents can be found at the link below:
(Executive summary is 6 pages; full report is 172 pages, but there are also separate sections to help locate topics of interest)
Link to video recording of the Oct. 7 Public Meeting Presentation:
Items of note:
1. A key component of the plan is to determine adequate financial resources; so a waste collection fee and environmental service fee are proposed. Houston is one of the few cities in Texas and the country that does not currently charge residents a waste collection fee. Much of the plan is an examination of costs and comparisons with other cities; and those figures show Houston to be seriously under funded, under staffed, and ill-equipped. One issue will be how this fee proposal will address equity issues, and impacts on less affluent communities; the plan proposes an assistance program similar to the existing W.A.T.E.R. Fund, which is funded by donations.
In the draft plan the estimated residential collection fee would be $20-25/month per household, along with an $5-6/month environmental service fee.
2. Recycling: contamination is a big problem for Houston residential recycling; as much as 30-40%, worse than average. A variety of efforts to address this are recommended, including expanded public education, but contingent on additional funding. Houston has no ordinance yet mandating apartment recycling, and that would be a future option. The plan proposes adding more recycling drop off locations to serve residents of multi-family dwellings; the goal is a drop off location in every city council district.
3. The lifespan of current local landfills is estimated at approximately 30-35 years at projected waste stream rates. Planning for a new landfill could be required in the near future if the landfill waste stream is not reduced. A new landfill would require 600-1,000 acres of land. Locating a new landfill of that size would have implications for regional wetlands, streams, open space, nearby communities, etc.
Plan Priorities (as stated in the draft Plan)
Based on an assessment of the City’s needs and program options, the following are the high priority actions for the City’s SWMD.
1. Establish a long-term financially sustainable program that includes both a monthly environmental fee and a monthly service fee.
2. Right-size the program. The City will need to continue to make investments in new equipment to replace older equipment and increase staff.
3. Assure long-term disposal capacity in the region by directly investing in a process to site, permit and construct an MSW landfill in the region. The City may operate with its own staff or operate the landfill under contract similar to the City’s transfer stations.
4. Work towards a zero-waste management system. Five specific programs are identified as priorities.
a. Enhance markets for recyclable materials through cooperation with industry and the City’s economic development office.
b. Focus attention on the multi-family and commercial / institutional sectors. This should begin with public education and coordination, ultimately leading to mandatory ordinances.
c. Continue to provide residential recycling services, with an emphasis on reducing contamination.
d. Establish an organics management program that targets the commercial sector including food processors and food service businesses.
e. Mobilize the entire Houston community to understand that action is required by every household and business to reduce the cost of solid waste management and preserve critical disposal capacity.
5. Invest in a new North East transfer station to be located at the NE service center. The SWMD should also immediately fund improvements at existing transfer stations.
6. Improve illegal dumping clean-up efforts through increases in staff and equipment. Increase enforcement.
For questions or comments, contact Frank Blake at email@example.com