After reducing and reusing, recycling is the simplest way to divert valuable waste from the landfill. In cities with curbside recycling programs, this is as easy as tossing plastic, aluminum, and paper into a separate bin and setting it by the curb on pick-up day. In Houston, however, even this minuscule effort has proven to be a deterrent.

“The city has a fairly dismal recycling rate of 14%, caused in part by the fact that recycling bins aren’t available to all residents,” reports Fast Company. Add that to a lack of education and no mandatory recycling laws, and you’ve got a big, wasteful mess. But instead of tackling those challenges head on, the City of Houston is trying a more subtle approach–the country’s first total material resource recovery facility.

recycling waste diversion
Image via orphanjones/Flickr

The idea represented Houston’s submission to the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge, a competition created to inspire American cities to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenges and improve city life. Called “Total Reuse—One Bin for All”, the innovation would eliminate source separation at the household level.

That’s right, no more rinsing, sorting, or special pick up dates. Residents will place everything in one bin, from recyclables, to food waste, yard trimmings and e-waste. Officials say technology would do the sorting at the recovery facility, and recyclable waste would be used to create biofuel or other usable products. If successful, they say it could turn diver 75 percent of Houston’s waste from the landfill.

The idea earned Houston a spot as one of the top 20 finalists in the Bloomberg challenge, and now companies are submitting proposals to operate the One Bin for All facility. Although the $5 million competition prize would speed up the process, Houston officials say they’ll proceed with the idea whether they win or not.

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