, Port Arthur, Texas

December 10, 2012

Recycling programs prove inconsistent in Southeast Texas

Josh Brown
The Port Arthur News

PORT NECHES —   Jon Herndon parked his white pickup next to the recycling bins on Merriman Street and began sifting through his bags, dividing the papers, plastics and aluminum cans.

 “I hate to fill a landfill with stuff that won’t ever go away,” he said.

 Before moving to Port Neches, Herndon was able to use a curb-side recycling program provided, at the time, by Bridge City. He said it would be nice to see something similar implemented in his current hometown.

 “There’s a lot of stuff out on streets that could easily be recycled,” he said.

 The Bridge City program was discontinued years ago, however, for the same reason similar systems throughout the area have proven unsuccessful: No one used it.

 Gerald Robinson, public works director for Bridge City, said only 7 to 8 percent of residents were using curb-side recycling, so the program ended once the city turned over to an automated trash collection system.

 “It wasn’t cost-effective,” he said.

 For cities like Port Arthur, where even basic trash collection has been a recent issue, recycling might be a more-long term goal.

 Michael Sinegal, Precinct 3 commissioner and former Port Arthur City Council member, said there are more current issues elected officials must contend with before a recycling program is even considered.

 “Some of the pressing issues in Port Arthur, like unemployment- issues like the environment get pushed on the back burner,” he said. “They would rather deal with issues that are far more important to them than worrying about the environment.”

 Sinegal said the community would likely need a “PR blitz” to educated residents about how recycling works and why it’s so important.

 “It’s something we could all sit down and have a regular conversation about,” he said. “We have to respond to what the community wants. That may be something we can get done.”

 The most pressing issue for recycling in Port Arthur right now, according to Sinegal, is tires.

 “A lot of people just put it in the trash and it ends up in our landfill,” he said. “There are certain stipulations that require this stuff not be put in our landfill, but a lot of it does end up there.”

 Floyd Johnson, city manager for Port Arthur, echoed Sinegal’s beliefs about the city needing a better recycling program for old, worn out tires.

 “We have a problem that’s probably more acute than in other cities,” he said. “We continue to investigate this, and we might look into the private sector for ways to make a financially and economically viable option.”

 Johnson mentioned a petition that will go before PACC during its next meeting for the Texas Bottle Bill, which is trying to “establish a funding base to create jobs locally and throughout the state - especially in the recycling, processing and manufacturing industries,” according to its website.

 The bill is the first formal recycling-related agenda item the PACC has seen since Johnson became city manager this summer.

 Johnson said elected officials are always interested in the beautification of Port Arthur, but they do have other priorities. He listed revitalizing downtown, working on infrastructure and cutting grass in empty lots as the city’s current focus points.

 “All these things make it harder to attract businesses downtown,” he said.

How it works

 The main reason recycling programs have been unsuccessful in Southeast Texas, according to Mike Wilson, district manager for Waste Management in the Golden Triangle, is because there are so many landfills.

 “In other parts of the country, like the Northeast or Northwest, landfills charge anywhere from $60 to $120 a ton,” he said. “Here it’s about $20.”

 According to an annual report by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, there are four landfills in the Golden Triangle which accounted for more than 700,000 tons of waste in 2010.

 “There’s so much land, and it’s so cheap, it doesn’t force people to look at another option,” Wilson said.

 Waste Management has noticed a growing interest in recycling in Port Neches, according to Wilson, and the company recently increased collection in that area.

 “We started about a year and a half ago with three bins picked up once a week,” he said. “Now we have four bins that are picked up three times a week. They’re used consistently.”

 Waste Management also has recycling deals with Beaumont, Nederland and Orange County, though Beaumont is the only one offering a curb-side program.

 “As people start to move here from other areas where recycling was prevalent, we think it will start to change,” Wilson said. “We’re betting recycling will be a big part of the whole country within the next few years.”

 Beaumont tried to offer city-wide recycling in the late 90s, only to have the program go under for lack of interest. Now, after requests from city council members and citizens, the city is trying something new.

 Chris Boone, community development director for Beaumont, said a committee was established in 2010 to find out if the recycling program should be restarted, and a survey was conducted to map out the interested areas.

 “We knew going in a city-wide program would not work,” he said.

 The city soon made an agreement with Waste Management to offer curb-side recycling to the predetermined areas. Not only has the program been successful, Boone said, but interest is starting to grow.

 “The whole idea was to implement the program residents requested,” he said. “Since the majority of the city does not use it, it’s not worth while to make the program city-wide. Hopefully subscriptions will keep increasing.”

 For now, Port Arthur residents will have to rely on drop-off locations at landfills or participate in events by the Texas Recyclers Association Inc., a local grassroots non-profit.

 “It takes more than a few people to have a demand,” Wilson said. “Sometimes the process is slow.”


 Twitter: @joshnathanbrown