Awesome post from Emaleigh Doley about Houston’s One Bin For All trash plan that won Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge:
When it comes to how citizens think about trash, Houston isn’t interested in changing culture. The Bloomberg Philanthropies website notes, “decades of consumer education have failed to significantly change behavior.”
Instead, Houston’s ambitious “One Bin for All” plan seeks to build a better way of coping with that behavior – by making it easier for people to just toss their trash and not have to think about it. According to Houston’s press release, this means creating “an innovative public-private partnership to combine existing technologies to achieve the ultimate goal in waste management – a one-bin, high-recovery system that will aim to recycle 75% of all waste.”
One Bin for All recognizes that many people in Houston are uneducated about recycling, and just plain lazy. Coupled with lack of legislation, the recycling rate in the city clocks in at just 14%, below the national average of 35%.
Mayor Parker’s answer? Open a dreamy high-tech facility and leave it to the gizmos to make all the decisions for residents, separating trash from recyclables, down to pieces of foil and bottle caps.
Beyond giving residents more convenience, Houston ultimately wants to take the load off landfills. One Bin for All would drastically reduce the total volume of waste the city sends to landfills each year, diverting an estimated 75% of materials residents discard and maximizing recycling. (See FastCo.Exist for a look at potential waste-to-energy systems Houston could adopt.)
There’s a certain kind of person who reads a proposal like this and thinks it’s repugnant. It’s a cop-out. People shouldn’t be lazy. They should care about recycling, and they should take the time to be conscientious citizens and separate their garbage, compost, etc. And I would agree it would be awesome if we lived in a world of virtuous people who behaved like that.
But that is not the world we live in. In the world we live in, people are kind of lazy. If there isn’t an immediate payoff for recycling or composting, or an immediate penalty for not doing that stuff, then compliance is going to be low. You can choose to get mad about that, or you can meet people where they’re at, and find a solution that doesn’t rely on everyone suddenly becoming less lazy and myopic.
I prefer the solution that works around the laziness, because I don’t want to live in a world with landfill landslides like the one that just happened in Williams Township.