Mayor Parker joined Mayor Bloomberg and 3 other Mayors in New York for a press conference and an hour-long conference call with members of the press this morning to announce that Houston's One Bin for All program was one of five winners in the Bloomberg Philanthropies' Mayors-challenge. The competition invites cities to share innovative ideas of programs or services that solve current problems and that can be shared with other cities. The winners were Chicago, Houston, Providence, Philadelphia, and Santa Monica, CA. Four of the five mayors were present for the announcement and conference call. Mayor Rahm Emmanuel of Chicago was not able to attend.
Houston won a $1 million innovation prize to help implement the program and a sculpture commemorating the win by world-renowned designer Olafur Eiliasson. Houston's planned project, One Bin for all uses recently-developed technology to make it feasible to treat all trash as recyclables. Instead of carefully sorting out containers, papers, etc, from other trash, residents can use the same bin for all trash.
In addition to the Bloomberg Philanthropies prize, Houston won the Mayors-challenge Fan Favorite Selection. The contest asked was designed by Huffington Post which partnered with Bloomberg Philanthropies. It asked residents to vote for their favorite city on a Facebook web page, and Houstonians gave their city the highest number of votes. The prize for this contest is an in-kind grant of consulting services from IBM valued at $50,000 to support implementation of the One Bin for All idea.
Currently, trash is sent to landfills, but 75% of it could be recycled. There are many other obvious advantages as well. It will reduce the number of trucks needed for waste removal, thereby lowering the high volume of truck emissions while eliminating the cost in gas and labor for thousands of truck miles each month.
“I am thrilled that Houston has been selected as a Mayors Challenge winner," said Mayor Parker. “One Bin for All is a first-of-its kind innovation that will revolutionize the way we handle trash, achieving high-volume recycling and waste diversion, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and lower operating costs. I am anxious to begin implementation because I know this cutting-edge technology has the potential to improve health and quality of life not only in Houston, but around the world.”
In the press conference call, Mayor Parker explained that the program might take about a year to implement. A new plant will need to be designed, and the Department of Public Works will need to restructure its logistical organization, then inform the public of new schedules, times, etc.
Mayor Parker also stated that she believed the new plan would create about 160 new jobs. I asked later whether there was any risk of layoffs as the new program rolled out and the need for truck drivers diminished. She explained that waste collection is probably the most privatized aspect of city services. Although many waste collection drivers are city employees, DPW competes with the private sector because drivers are always in demand. Anyone with a truck and a CDL license is likely to have plenty of business.