Neighborhood 'trashed' by failed experiment

April 25, 2008 5:21:11 PM PDT
Residents of a neighborhood in southwest Houston say the piles of trash are becoming more than just an eyesore. People there are angry that the city hasn't helped to clean it up. We found out it all has to do with a city pilot program. Neighbors say they just want the old mattresses and other trash out.

In October the city started collecting heavy trash and green waste separately as an effort to save money and increase recycling. But those in the 47,000 homes where this is being done on a trial basis say that leaves the junk piling up on their streets.

Those in the neighborhoods on the southwest and northwest sides of the city want the trash picked up before it begins affecting their home values. The city of Houston last October started limiting heavy trash pickup to 47,000 homes around the city, including those here in Southwood Place.

"Our neighborhood is beginning to look like a dump," said homeowner Maurissa Tolbert.

The plan was designed to pickup heavy trash quarterly, instead of once a month as it is elsewhere in the city. It's the city's effort to cut costs and increase recycling. Under the program green waste is picked up those other eight months when heavy trash isn't.

Tolbert said, "Every four months is not working out here."

Tolbert says no one came to pick up mattresses, boxes and tree limbs since they were dumped here in December. She says the city skipped the January heavy trash collection.

Homeowner Arjumand Mubaarak said, "It's incredible that it's been here that long and nothing's happened."

The city of Houston's solid waste department insists that heavy trash was picked up as scheduled here in January. Homeowners say they have called the city's 311 line to complain several times since January, though a solid waste representative claims otherwise.

"There was no record of any calls that came in for the period of January, February and March," said City of Houston spokesperson Marina Joseph.

Joseph says it's clear that homeowners want heavy trash picked up more frequently. Despite complaints, she and city leaders call the program a success because it has diverted nearly 4,400 tons of green waste from landfills since October.

"Material that was going into the landfill is no longer going into the landfill, but actually being recycled," Joseph explained.

Separating and recycling that wood waste, the city says has saved it an estimated $139,000 that it otherwise would have had to spend just to trash the junk in a landfill.

City leaders say they are already learning from this. Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck says there is a plan to expand the heavy trash and recycling program city wide. It would involve picking up the junk one month, and green waste the next, then alternating throughout the rest of the year. That's a plan still to be voted on by city council.

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