Unless a deal more favorable to taxpayers is brokered in the coming days, Houston’s recycling program will end on March 16. The increased cost of contracting with the massive corporation coupled with the serious fiscal restraints of the city make the future of recycling unsure.

Council Member Mike Knox was the first to speak out against the unaffordable contract renewal. Following suit, many other members who have spoken out have been targeted by groups such as Texas Organizing Project and Texas Campaign for the Environment accusing them of being anti-recycling.

Every elected official at city hall has expressed the need for a recycling program, but only a few have acknowledged the reality that the city’s taxpayers can’t afford an expensive six-year, no opt-out contract with Waste Management, which is headquartered in Houston.

On Wednesday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he would announce a plan next week for moving forward with recycling saying, “recycling, in some form, will continue.”

This came the same day as a letter from the CEO of Waste Management, David Steiner, was revealed. Answering a question from a Houstonian, Steiner wrote that Turner “asked if [Waste Management] could continue to lose money for 18 more months so [Turner] does not look bad as a politician.”

Under the current contract, Houston pays $65-per-ton to Waste Management for the recycling program. Because of the global drop in the price of commodities, the new contract proposed to the city would have increased that cost to $95-per-ton, which equates to about $18.3 million for the duration of the contract. (Recycling tends to make sense economically only when the price of oil is high, making recycling cheaper than the cost of producing new materials.)

When council members expressed discontent with this, Turner attempted to negotiate a one-year contract. As with any short-term contract the cost increased, resulting in a $104-per-ton fee.

The split on the council was clearly visible with some members willing to give in to Waste Management’s demands at almost any cost. “Sometimes things just cost money… sometimes you have to pay to do the right thing,” is how District H’s new Council Member Karla Cisneros put it.

The right thing to do isn’t further indebting the city at the expense of its taxpayers to appease environmental groups who spoke out during public session. Houstonians need an affordable alternative for taxpayers who are already on the hook for a growing $126 million deficit.

To paraphrase Council Member Greg Travis, Houstonians are in favor of continuing a recycling program, but some are for affordable recycling and others are willing to give in to unaffordable recycling, and taxpayers do not want the latter.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.