Through the Losing Glass: What the Recycling Conundrum Says About Houston

FOR THE CITY, it was certainly a step back— although things could have been worse. In March, after a brief standoff, the Houston City Council struck a new two-year deal with Waste Management, one the financially strapped city was able to afford. Our curbside recycling program, Houstonians were relieved to hear, wouldn’t be nixed entirely. But glass, the priciest and heaviest of all recyclables, would be eliminated.

No longer could we place our wine bottles and pickle jars in green bins for pickup, something we’d grown to take for granted. Many were frustrated by the change, which felt like an unwanted step backward. Waste Management gave the city four months before ceasing glass pickup, a grace period now coming to an end. Starting this month, Houstonians who want to continue recycling glass will have to transport it to recycling stations themselves, although in certain zip codes, there’s another option.

In April, David Krohn, 28, and his girlfriend’s 8-year-old brother, Tristan Berlanga, decided to start a small recycling-pickup business, Hauling Glass, to pick up the city’s slack. For a $10 monthly fee, they now collect glass every other week for residents in three Heights-area zip codes, carrying it away in their 1977 Jeep Wagoneer to a downtown warehouse for pickup by another company. So far, 220 houses have signed up, and hundreds more have requested pickup in additional zip codes.

“Originally, we thought it’d just be an hour to pick up every other week after I got off work and he’s off from school,” Krohn says. “But we’ve had a crazy amount of people signing up already, and we have a ton of demand in other zip codes. So right now we’re trying to figure out how to expand as quickly as possible.”

It was a heartwarming coda to a disheartening turn of events. After all, everyone loves a tale of an 8-year-old entrepreneur. But more than that, citizens stepping in to get something done when local government could or would not— that’s pure Houston. This is the city whose own Ship Channel exists only because Jesse Jones helped match the federal government’s funds to build the thing. The project was one of the city’s first public-private partnerships, and a model Houston’s followed ever since.

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