All that garbage: Cities explore one-bin recycling to reduce waste (and cost)

Wed, 2015-08-26 06:00 -- Doug Peeples


It's true of course. More people mean more garbage. So how are cities with limited space and limited waste management budgets supposed to deal with it? Longmont, Colorado and Houston, Texas are among those exploring what is considered by some to be a controversial solution: one-bin recycling.

EcoHub is a collaborative of partners dedicated to reclaiming energy resources from municipal solid waste (MSW) created by Council Associate Partner Organic Energy Corporation (which developed the concept and separation technology) and numbering Council Lead Partner IBM among its partners. EcoHub has presented its one-bin recycling, composting and waste system to the two cities.

Advantages of one-bin recycling?
Organic Energy explains what it sees as benefits on its website:

  • With one-can disposal and one-route collection there are fewer trucks to run and fewer trips to make. That means significant savings -- 20% or more overall for collection and processing -- with up to nine times the diversion achieved vs. conventional recycling programs.
  • The MaxDiverter™ system of waste separation enables the most dramatic reduction of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the waste business possible. The process pulls all the organic material from the waste stream that ordinarily decomposes in a landfill (thereby generating methane) and instead directs it into the production of renewable natural gas, compost and fertilizer.
  • The goal is to get as close as possible to zero waste.

Yes, city councils and some residents in both cities are skeptical the system will work as promised. But Tom Darcy of IBM's Smarter Cities initiative, told the Longmont council during his presentation that the system would require teamwork to succeed. Quoted in the Times-Call newspaper, Darcy said "The biggest area where we differ is how to fund that and how quickly we can get to those goals. He said the first EcoHub is in the negotiations phase with Houston, and explained that for Longmont to participate a regional collaboration with other cities probably would be required.

For its part, Houston has spent decades trying to implement a successful recycling program but remains far below the national average, according to the Smart Cities Readiness Guide. City mayor Annise Parker has been pushing hard for a one-bin system and advanced materials recovery facility specialist Organic Energy wants to manage the city's waste.

A very positive note, according to the Readiness Guide, is after the city of Montgomery, Alabama implemented a one-bin waste collection solution in conjunction with the opening of a materials recovery facility, the recycling rate rocketed from 1% to 70% in under a month.

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More people, more garbage: Report forecasts rapid growth in smart waste market