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On March 13, 2013, Houston was awarded one of five inaugural Mayor’s Challenge Prizes from Bloomberg Philanthropies for its innovative proposal “One Bin for All.” Contesting cities were to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenges and improve city life. A $1 million prize was given to Houston to be used to implement a workable process utilizing cutting-edge technology to separate trash from recyclables, allowing residents to discard all materials—including kitchen garbage and other organics—in one bin and accomplish all separation and processing at a mechanical biological treatment with advanced resource recovery facility (MBTARR) (City of Houston 2013b). Two years later, the city has in hand a select group of short-listed finalist proposals to do just that. Houston’s challenge is now to choose which finalist, if any, should be awarded to accomplish the creation and operation of the city’s waste handling and recycling for the next 20 years.
Houston’s current level of waste diversion at 19 percent is not impressive. This rate lags far behind the national average of approximately 34 percent in most of the major metropolitan areas across the country. Of the 19 percent waste that is diverted from landfills, only 6 percent comes from recycling, the remainder results from the city’s mandatory yard waste compostable bag program (Capps 2014). Under the proposed One Bin plan, the city has set an initial goal of diverting 55 percent of municipal waste away from landfills, eventually increasing that to 75 percent (City of Houston 2013b). If Houston can succeed in pulling off this project, it will set a new standard in waste disposal that will revolutionize the industry for years to come and hopefully save the city some money.
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