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City workers on botched recycling: ‘Supervisors and management were having us mix the loads’

KHOU 11 Investigates uncovered evidence of city garbage trucks taking recyclables along with your trash to the landfill.

HOUSTON — Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has asked for what his office calls a “sweeping investigation” into the city’s Solid Waste Management Department.

The action comes as new evidence emerged of city garbage trucks not recycling recyclable materials.

KHOU 11 Investigates caught a city garbage truck, on Earth Day, dumping black garbage bins together with green recyclable bins. A city solid waste spokesperson confirmed the mixed load was sent to the landfill.

RELATED: KHOU 11 Investigates catches the City of Houston not recycling your recyclables

RELATED: Council members react to KHOU 11 Investigates story on recycling being taken to the landfill

Mayor Turner initially blamed the incident on the truck driver who went “afoul of the rules,” but five other current and former solid waste employees said city supervisors often instructed them to do so.

“Supervisors and management were having us mix the loads, and if we refused to do it, then they would write us up,” said a former city worker who asked not to be identified.

That worker, who spent six years driving for the city, said supervisors would only give the order to haul recyclables to the landfill over the phone.

“It wasn’t put over the radio, they refused to put it over the two-way radio,” he said.

The worker said the practice has been going on for several years. He said he first alerted city officials by e-mail in 2015, before Mayor Sylvester Turner took office. 

“Lately I have been very upset with the things that I have been seeing with management,” the email stated.

It was addressed to the Director of the Solid Waste Management Department and Houston Mayor’s Office.

“On any given day we are told to mix trash and recycling together.”

The worker signed the e-mail as a “very concerned employee” but said management never responded. 

Another former solid waste employee said the supervisors’ directive to take recycling to the landfill was given two to three times each week.

“The taxpayers are getting shortchanged,” the worker said.

Some taxpayers also shared new evidence of the city not recycling recyclables. Homeowner Angie Harris videotaped workers doing so more than once on her street in southeast Houston. The incidents took place in 2016 and records show Ellis complained to the city’s 311 helpline. She said nobody from the city ever called her back.

RELATED: Investigation underway after new video exposes city workers not recycling

“I think it’s terrible, I go through a lot of time washing out, cleaning out and trying to recycle and for it to be just thrown in the garbage, is, is not right,” Ellis said.

Another homeowner sent us this doorbell camera video taken last month in the Tanglewilde neighborhood in West Houston.

It’s yet another case of co-mingling garbage with recyclables..

“It’s been happening for a long time so I knew it would come to light sooner or later,” said a former city worker.

The mayor’s office asked for anyone who has evidence of the city not recycling recyclables to provide it to the city. It released the following statement:

“Thank you Ms. Ellis for bringing the video to the City’s attention. Mayor Turner has asked for a sweeping Solid Waste Department investigation. Any supervisor or employee caught violating procedures or encouraging employees to violate procedures will be disciplined immediately… the citizens of Houston deserve to know their trash and recyclable materials are being handled according to City policy.”

The Solid Waste Department sent over the following statement regarding the recycling mixing:

The Solid Waste Management Department is proud of its role and responsibility to provide trash and recyclable services to the citizens of Houston. The department has never approved instructions for employees to collect black and green containers simultaneously.

After learning about the allegations, Mayor Turner ordered the SWMD Operations Executive Leadership to conduct a thorough investigation. Any employee that is confirmed to have intentionally violated procedures or anyone who encouraged employees to violate procedures will face immediate disciplinary action.

We encourage our residents to continue to separate their garbage and recycling for proper disposal and recycling.