Summer holidays this year are times for celebration, fireworks and, for some Houston neighborhoods, overflowing recycling bins. 

Due to the Juneteenth and the July Fourth holidays, the City of Houston Solid Waste Management Department’s curbside recycling pick-up schedule has undergone a four-week delay that began in early June.

Households that typically have their recycling picked up every other week on Mondays and Tuesdays are likely waiting the longest, with residents in the Museum District, Rice Village and Central Northwest stuck with their unclaimed recycling since June 5 and 6. 

This is the first year the city has had to manage trash and recycling collections during a two-week period with two holidays. That, along with staff and truck shortages, has delayed recycling pickups more than usual this summer. 

Solid Waste Management Department Director Mark Wilfalk said recycling collection this week should happen Monday for residents scheduled for Monday pickup and Wednesday for those whose collections occur on Tuesdays. 

For those with Thursday and Friday collection schedules, recycling trucks will not show up for another two weeks. Their recycling should have been collected on June 22 and 23. 

Houston serves 350,000 households with curbside recycling and contracts out to independent hauling companies for another 30,000 homes. 

“With the way those holidays fall and since Houston does a bi-weekly collection, married with few unexpected events, we are in a new set of challenges,” Wilfalk said Monday. “Unexpected, as in delays for new vehicles are going on for two years because of equipment shortages.”

The city recently received a few new trucks and officials are hoping to take delivery on another 60 by December. 

Solid Waste Management also has been short-staffed for a couple years. The department is about 43 employees behind, but Wilfalk said he is hopeful the department will be able to boost its driver ranks with signing bonuses increasing from $3,000 to $5,000. 

Some community leaders said they are not surprised by the delays, but Sandy Stevens, president of the Museum District Neighborhood Association, said four weeks does seem like a long time without recycling being picked up. 

When the city sent out emails informing residents of the delays, she reached out to all 400 of her neighborhood association members to let them know it would be a while. 

City of Houston green recycling bin stand unpicked by the city’s Solid Waste Management, Monday in Houston. (Marie D. De Jesús / Houston Landing)

“There’s been a significant amount of progress since I first moved here 18 years ago,” Stevens said. “But it’s not exactly where it needs to be if we want to keep encouraging our residents to be good stewards to our environment.” 

Keith Downey, Kashmere Gardens Super Neighborhood president, said recycling is just another issue to deal with, another burden for community leaders. 

“Kashmere Gardens has dealt with delays before, but even regular trash pick up has been an issue sometimes in the past,” he said. 

Recycling collection will restart in Kashmere Garden folks until July 21, the city said. 

When recycling or trash is delayed, Downey said communication to residents should be clear and thorough. In the past, he said,Solid Waste only has publicized delays on its website. This time, however, the department went on radio shows, print media and emails. 

Though the current collection delays have been driven, in part, by the two holidays so close together, Wilfalk said a four-week delay next year is not a certainty.

“Our vehicles are doing their absolute best,” Wilfalk said. “And the reason I’m feeling optimistic is because we’re starting to see signs of life that the new ones are rolling in.”

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Elena Bruess covers the environment for the Houston Landing. She comes to Houston after two years at the San Antonio Express-News, where she covered the environment, climate and water. Elena previously...