Expanding recycling in Houston to multi-family properties

With a recycling rate of about 19%, Houston falls 15 points below the national average of 34.7 percent.

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Luke Metzger
Executive Director

Author: Luke Metzger

Executive Director

(512) 479-0388

Started on staff: 1998
B.A., University of Southern California

As the executive director of Environment Texas, Luke is a leading voice in the state for clean air, clean water, clean energy and open space. Luke has led successful campaigns to win permanent protection for the Christmas Mountains of Big Bend; to compel Exxon, Shell and Chevron Phillips to cut air pollution at four Texas refineries and chemical plants; and to boost funding for water conservation and state parks. The San Antonio Current has called Luke "long one of the most energetic and dedicated defenders of environmental issues in the state." He has been named one of the "Top Lobbyists for Causes" by Capitol Inside, received the President's Award from the Texas Recreation and Parks Society for his work to protect Texas parks, and was chosen for the inaugural class of "Next Generation Fellows" by the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at UT Austin. Luke, his wife, son and daughters are working to visit every state park in Texas.

Testimony of Environment Texas' Luke Metzger to the Houston City Council

Good morning Mayor and Council Members. My name is Luke Metzger and I'm the Executive Director of Environment Texas.

I’m here to speak in support of Council Member Kamin’s amendment regarding multi-family recycling.

America produces an immense amount of garbage—seven pounds of material per person every single day. Our system of consumption and disposal results in the waste of precious resources and pollution that threatens our health, environment and the global climate. 

And unfortunately, Houston is one of the more wasteful cities in the US. With a recycling rate of about 19%, Houston falls 15 points below the national average of 34.7 percent.

Expanding recycling to multi-family properties will help reduce the huge amount of waste going to landfills and will give an opportunity for all Houstonians to recycle. 

Austin, San antonio, Dallas and Fort Worth already do this and it’s time for Houston to join them. Council Member Kamin’s amendment will have a big benefit for our air, water, and climate, ultimately save the city money from avoided costs from landfills and could help the economy. A recent study found recycling has created 17,000 jobs in Texas and added more than $3 billion to the state economy in a year.

I urge you to approve Council Member Kamin’s amendment and give an opportunity for all Houstonians to recycle. Thank you. 

Background on the amendment

Currently, the City provides recycling services to single-family homes, eight units or less, while larger multi-family buildings are not required to provide recycling services. This budget amendment codifies the Solid Waste Long-Range Plan recommendation to establish a mandatory multi-family recycling ordinance and ensures a feasible timeline that allows for community stakeholder input.

Nearly half of all Houstonians now live in multi-family housing, and the number is anticipated to increase from 1 million in 2019 to 1.6 million in 2040. The City is quickly running out of space in landfills and must find ways to reduce the amount of waste we generate. Not only is the cost of new landfills prohibitive, the time it takes to actually create a new landfill can take years. If we do not begin to significantly reduce waste in the next few years, we will not be able to extend the life of our current landfills long enough to last until new space can be acquired. Thousands of constituents want to recycle, but their multi-family buildings do not currently provide this service. As we move towards a more sustainable and resilient city, recycling is a basic necessity that Houston must catch up on.

While the long-range plan stipulates that an ordinance would be voted on in 2025, that could push implementation even later than 2025 and create additional issues as it relates to landfills, among other things. This amendment requires the actual program to begin by 2024, and leaves open the opportunity for this to be a phased-in approach beyond 2024.

This amendment will ensure the program moves forward efficiently and expediently.

Cities in Texas that have already passed mandatory multi-family recycling ordinances include San Antonio, Austin, Fort Worth, Dallas, and San Marcos.

Luke Metzger
Executive Director

Author: Luke Metzger

Executive Director

(512) 479-0388

Started on staff: 1998
B.A., University of Southern California

As the executive director of Environment Texas, Luke is a leading voice in the state for clean air, clean water, clean energy and open space. Luke has led successful campaigns to win permanent protection for the Christmas Mountains of Big Bend; to compel Exxon, Shell and Chevron Phillips to cut air pollution at four Texas refineries and chemical plants; and to boost funding for water conservation and state parks. The San Antonio Current has called Luke "long one of the most energetic and dedicated defenders of environmental issues in the state." He has been named one of the "Top Lobbyists for Causes" by Capitol Inside, received the President's Award from the Texas Recreation and Parks Society for his work to protect Texas parks, and was chosen for the inaugural class of "Next Generation Fellows" by the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at UT Austin. Luke, his wife, son and daughters are working to visit every state park in Texas.