Earth-friendly lawn waste bags earn complaints

HOUSTON Some residents say the bags are breaking down before the trucks can even pick them up. At a cost of about a dollar per bag, they say it's simply getting too expensive.

When the City of Houston began requiring homeowners to use compostable bags, resident Elizabeth Evans thought the intent was good.

She said, "You certainly don't want yard waste in a landfill."

But after using them for just a few weeks, she's not sure the bags are doing their job.

"They are a good product in that they do degrade, but they're not strong enough," Evans said.

City officials confirm they have received a handful of complaints that the compost bags are breaking down too soon. They say a majority of the complaints have to do with a 39-gallon bag manufactured by the company Al-Pack. Officials are currently in talks with that company to possibly have them make their bags thicker.

Marina Joseph with the Houston Solid Waste Department said, "What the manufacturer has been told is to make sure those bags are in compliance."

But the company stands by their product, believing Houston weather has more to do with the problems.

"The bags are designed to decompose," explained Vernon Allen with Al-Pack. "The environment, heat, humidity and the product going into the bag all play a variable factor."

Either way, the city is not ready to toss out the program, saying the cost savings is about $1.5 million a year. Still Evans worries if the bags' problems aren't worked out, residents won't give it a try.

"It just makes it more complicated," Evans said. "You want to make it as easy as it is for people to recycle and compost and when you have to do double duty, it's a deterrent."

Five companies sell the bags. City officials say they have received the majority of the complaints about the one company, but they say they have received some complaints about the bags from the other companies as well.

The mayor has ordered a stop on citations until the durability of these bags can be tested. The director of the solid waste department is expected to report back to the mayor within 60 days.

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