All Together Now

A public-private partnership in Houston yields green dividends.

By Joshua Payne

A new public-private partnership in the heart of Texas is ramping up recycling efforts in The Lone Star State. In October, the City of Houston partnered with Abitibi-Consolidated Inc. and HEB Grocery Company to place 84 multi-material recycling containers at HEB stores in 27 neighborhoods. The venture is a prime example of how companies and local governments can both benefit from environmentally friendly efforts.

Abitibi-Consolidated Inc., a global manufacturer of newsprint, commercial paper, and wood products, is among the largest recyclers of newspapers and magazines in North America, diverting roughly 1.7 million tons of paper from landfills annually. The company recently merged with another paper maker, Bowater Inc., to form AbitibiBowater. Darryl Lambert, an area manager for the company, likens the recycling program to a typical corporate scoreboard. “My approach is that essentially my biggest competitor is the landfill,” he says. “There's so much material going there that we could be diverting and putting back into use through society.

The new effort is modeled after an existing program, where the company placed recycling bins, which function like Dumpsters but are more aesthetically pleasing, in front of nonprofit organizations in Houston. The bins and collection service are provided free of charge. The company even kicked in marketing and educational support to the nonprofit organizations to help spread the word about the availability of the containers. In return, the organizations recycle all of their paper products and encourage the neighboring communities to use the bins.

Though free and easy recycling service should be incentive enough for most nonprofits, the company sweetens the pot further. Since AbitibiBowater is an end user of the recycled fiber product – its core business is manufacturing newsprint – it pays for the recycled paper, creating a revenue stream for the nonprofits. For hosting the bins, H-E-B will also be paid for the amount of materials collected. "We collect old newspapers, magazines, catalogues, junk mail, office waste and manufacture it back into newsprint. Some of our mills that we ship it to as raw materials are 100-percent recycled content mills. It keeps it all diverted from the landfill," Lambert says. The Chicago Tribune and the Dallas Morning News are just two of the dailies that print on AbitibiBowater paper, he adds. The company took it one step further with H-E-B, by boosting the number of containers on the ground and\nproviding bins to collect cans and bottles as well.

Abitibi-Consolidated opened its doors in 1994, with its first office in Houston. The company began its recycling program the same year and now covers 23 metropolitan regions throughout the United States and one in Canada. Both Abitibi-Consolidated and H-E-B have received awards for environmental excellence and were brainstorming ways they could work together to realize their similar corporate visions. H-E-B already offers a bag recycle program, where customers can bring back the plastic bags they use to carry food home and the store recycles them.

Abitibi-Consolidated and the City of Houston have been partners on recycling projects since the early 1990s. "The public-private partnership was actually a true success here," Lambert said. Houston had been looking for additional ways to recycle and keep the Magnolia City as green as possible. The pilot program for the new partnership was launched the first week of September at four H-E-B stores and the official kick-off was held in early October, with Houston Mayor Bill White making a formal announcement. The city helped promote the effort and enacted zoning changes permitting the recycling bins to be placed in H-E-B lots.

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