While most large American cities have started ambitious recycling programs that have sharply reduced the amount of trash bound for landfills, Houston has not.
The city's shimmering skyline may wear the label of the world's energy capital, but deep in Houston's Dumpsters lies a less glamorous superlative: It is the worst recycler among the United States' 30 largest cities.
Houston recycles just 2.6 percent of its total waste, according to a study this year by Waste News, a trade magazine. By comparison, San Francisco and New York recycle 69 percent and 34 percent of their waste respectively. Moreover, 25,000 Houston residents have been waiting as long as 10 years to get recycling bins from the city.
Environmental advocates are pleading for municipal intervention. And some small improvements -- an organic waste program, for one -- are expected soon.
But city officials say real progress will be hard to come by. Landfill costs here are cheap. The city's sprawling, no-zoning layout makes collection expensive, and there is little public support for the kind of effort it takes to sort glass, paper and plastics. And there appears to be even less for placing fees on excess trash.