Millions of dollars are being spent to address an increase in litter and illegal dumping that’s occurring throughout the City of Houston. City Council passed an ordinance on Wednesday that calls for weekly litter cleanups in an effort to alleviate the problem.
The ordinance is a three year contract for $1.3 million of ARPA funds with a one-year option to renew. The City’s Southwest Management and Waste Department (SMWD) will perform litter Abatement Services which includes trash pickup, waste disposal and PPE Litter.
“We all still see too much litter on our street with 50% of that litter being discarded from peoples cars,” said Vice Mayor Pro Tem Martha Castex-Tatum. “I do want to continue to advocate for us trying to work out a plan to put that on the news, on tv and radio – because when people are driving and throwing stuff out of their cars – they need to get the message that we want to prevent that in the City of Houston.”
Although the City of Houston is spending millions on litter services, City leaders said they’re overwhelmed with the amount of illegal dumping that’s taking place in Houston.
“I would tell you, I’m at a loss,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “We’re going to have to change the culture that exists in this city, we are paying and paying, and we keep getting hit by the media and everybody else; we are picking up trash from illegal dumping sites.”
Turner said trash returns to the illegal dumping sites just as quickly as the city cleans them up. He said the city is doing its part to keep the city clean but they need help from residents too.
“We are spending millions of dollars …millions so we [have] to change the culture and I need your help on this one cause I’m frustrated.”
Turner said solid waste documents each time they remove trash from illegal dumping sites. They make note of the date and time as a way to provide evidence that the city is doing their job.
Mayor Turner said there could potentially be new ordinances brought forth to council addressing illegal dumping such as more city cameras — which are in some council districts.
“The point that I simply want to make is that, this a contract for the anti-litter, there’ll be another contract coming before you for illegal dumping, there’s another contract coming for cameras,” he said. “We’re spending money now on code enforcement officers – we’re doing all these things, but if the culture doesn’t change – we can’t sustain it.”
Castex-Tatum represents District K in southwest Houston and said cameras have helped drive down the dumping in her district.
“The cameras throughout the City of Houston I know made a big difference in our district because we’ve been catching people, knocking on their doors and sending them to court,” she said. “We have to hold people accountable when they are throwing litter in our city and dumping in our communities – enforcement has to also be a big part of what we do for this process as well.”
Turner didn’t state how specifically the cameras would be used or the specific details of the proposed ordinances.
The City of Houston has six Neighborhood Depository and Recycling Centers. Residents can find information on hours and what items are accepted at the depositories and recycling centers.
- North 9003 N Main 77002
- Northwest 14400 Sommermeyer 77041
- Northeast 5565 Kirkpatrick 77028
- Southeast 2240 Central Street 77017
- South 5100 Sunbeam 77033
- Southwest 10785 SW Freeway 77074
District I Council Member Robert Gallegos said the littering is getting so bad that he constantly sees trash around retail shops and restaurants.
“It’s also frustrating when you’re driving around and you come to a retail strip or a fast food restaurant and there is trash around there. Granted, I know it’s not the retail store doing it, I know it’s not the fast food restaurant doing it; it’s their customers,” he said. “The way I feel, that’s a health issue.”
Gallegos said hopefully the city can increase the number of depositories throughout the city and extend the hours of operation because the depositories get full and residents have to wait hours until they’re dumped – which he said might encourage people to just dump in vacant lots.
District A Council Member Amy Peck suggested the city provide real time notices for when the depositories are full. That way residents are not waiting in line for hours just to find out they can’t dump their items.
District C Council Member Abbie Kamin responded to Council Member Gallegos’s comments regarding trash around businesses and she pointed out that while some businesses are doing the right thing others are not.
“We also have construction companies that are dumping materials into fields,” she said. “I mean the weight alone – the cost is exponential.”