Momma Ginger often commented when she visited Houston that she was amazed how such a big city could be so "green"- she meant in appearance, because even with the sprawl of highways, parking lots, and buildings there is a lot of tree-filled greenspace here. With all those trees being pummelled for 17 hours by Hurricane Ike, you can't even imagine the amount of tree waste the city had to haul off. In retrospect, the City of Houston did an amazing job of getting the millions of tons of waste out of the city. It's still being created, as all of the most serious damage is repaired and people have time to address dangling limbs, broken trees, etc. And most importantly, the city is committed to keeping the 5.7 million cubic yards of waste out of the landfills.
The obvious answer would be to mulch it, and that is being done, but the Houston market couldn't possibly use that much mulch up before the piles began to breakdown and release tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
So the City held a contest and offered a $10,000 prize for the best idea for dealing with all the waste. The winning team devised a plan to use a huge kiln to turn it into charcoal, capturing the resulting methane gas for reuse as fuel. The charcoal could be worked into soil on farms and ranches to help hold carbon dioxide in the soil for use by the plants.
Seems like a great idea, but as this Houston Chronicle article shows, it may not be feasible to get a plant up and running in time to deal with all the current piles. But at least we are thinking ahead. And I'll bet there are other types of industrial waste that could be treated by such a plant as well.
Interestingly enough, Houston has another green waste initiative that a lot of people may not know about. Houston takes the "sludge" from the sewage processing plants, dries it into "crystals", and uses it to fertilize the city's golf courses, parks, public lawns, and green spaces. Whatever is left over is bagged and sold to consumers under the brand name "Houactonite". Miss G has used it before and it's great! It has no odor, doesn't stain concrete like chemical fertilizers do, and it's well balanced so it's almost impossible to burn the lawn by overfertilizing!
So don't think of Houston as only the miles of refinery smokestacks you always see on the news- those are really in smaller communities surrounding the city! Think of it as a forward-thinking, green city with an eye on the future!