How does Houston manage recycling? ABC13 gets insight on the process

Elyse Smith Image
Tuesday, April 30, 2024
How does Houston manage recycling? ABC13 gets insight on the process
What really happens with our recyclables? The City of Houston's Solid Waste Management explains and offers data about its recycling program.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Recycling has been a staple of everyday life for decades. We've been told it's a solution to managing waste, especially regarding paper, aluminum, glass, and plastic. So, on this last Monday of Earth Month, ABC13 Meteorologist Elyse Smith learned more about what happens to recyclables in the City of Houston once they're collected.

Mark Wilfalk, director of the City of Houston Solid Waste Management, walked ABC13 through how paper, aluminum, glass, and plastic are handled with the city-run, recently-opened drop-off locations for recyclable goods, including their unique Reuse Warehouse, where businesses can bring unwanted goods to be repurposed.

Of those four primary recyclables, plastic sometimes gets turned away.

"So, we can't just say, 'Oh, we're gonna recycle all the plastics,' and expect that to be the elixir and make everything better," Wilfalk said. "I do think that there is also...the producer responsibility. But then, also, the consumer's responsibility, too."

Wilfalk referred to how regular people can reduce their use - lessening or repurposing when possible - and then recycling as a final resort.

Solid Waste Management reports that in 2023, Houston's recycling rate was only 18%. Just over 91,000 tons of recyclables were processed. At the same time, over 420,000 tons of waste went into landfills in the Houston area last year. Even with those numbers, Wilfalk said that's a good spot to be.

"We're doing good. It's not always about the dollars and cents, but then, those opportunity savings as well. So it gives us the opportunity to really reduce the amount of waste that we're placing in our landfills," Wilfalk said.

However, there's no telling how many recyclables - from paper, aluminum, glass, or plastic - also ended up in a landfill.

A Houston-area resident told ABC13 he hopes that the city appropriately processes recyclables.

"There's really no way of verifying it. You really don't know," he said at a Kingwood drop-off location. "You don't see where this stuff (goes), and they take these dumpsters out of here. You don't know where they go. You have to assume they didn't end up in the landfill because all this would be for naught."

Once recyclables are collected from your doorstep or at these drop-off locations, they're taken to a sorting facility. The city contracts with FCC Environmental Services to handle recycling. ABC13 inquired about a tour of FCC Enviornmental's recycling facility to see the sorting process but was denied access to film.

So the question is, what happens to our recyclables, especially plastic, after recycling them? ABC13 is working to answer those questions for you over the next three weeks in a three-part series dedicated to recycling.

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