New green days: Recycling containers now open in Harlingen

After weeks of waiting, recycling is back.

The City of Harlingen opened its new self-drop-off service Tuesday for residents to recycle at two different locations — the Harlingen Recycling Center at 1006 South Commerce and the Scale House at 2900 East Harrison St.

On July 1, the City Commission voted unanimously to implement a modified recycling program that includes self-drop-off containers where residents will be able to recycle four types of commodities: cardboard, paper, aluminum and plastic.

The city has also partnered with the recycling center in McAllen, which will be collecting items from the two sites.

As soon as the doors were opened, cars arrived at the site at the old recycling center where residents took out bags from their cars. During lunch time a line started, and a few people took selfies to send to the Reinvent Harlingen Recycling Facebook page.

The group has advocated and protested for better ways to recycle and urged city officials to reopen or create a new program since the center closed in March.

A few of the visitors said they believed the new drop-off sites are beneficial and convenient, making it an optimal option.

Justin Zuniga, a Harlingen resident, said he had been trying to recycle this year but as soon as his intentions sparked, the center closed.

“ This year I started recycling more and buying less plastic. It was around the time I was going to take my first load of stuff when they closed. I didn’t know what to do because I was new to doing it and I have had that bag since the quarantine started,” Zuniga said.

“ Someone had told me about a center in Los Fresnos and I saw the petition and signed and hoped for ours to open back up. This is perfect, I don’t mind doing it by myself, nobody has to do it for me,” he said.

City Commissioner Ruben De La Rosa stopped by as well to drop off his items. He had also been waiting since March to bring his items.

“ It is better than nothing. Because of the times that we are going through this is a little bit better than what it is. We also need to protect our city employees, so there hasn’t been a real way of handling the recyclable materials from getting it from the car like we used to,” De La Rosa said.

“ This is what we came up with and this is what we are going to be doing for now. Depending on what happens and what CDC recommends we are going to be doing,” he said.

Other Harlingen residents had been visiting the City of McAllen Recycling Center in the meantime, in order to not have materials piling up at their homes.

Esther Russell-Hughes, of Harlingen, has been recycling since the Harlingen Recycling Center opened for the first time. Since the center closed, she visited the McAllen center once a month. For her, not being able to attend the Harlingen center affected her.

“ It would just build and build and build,” she said.

However, she added this new option is better than driving to McAllen. Russell-Hughes dropped off plastic, cardboard, and tin separated in individual plastic bags.

“ Yes, this is better than driving up there. It is back here locally, it is good for the environment,” she said. “It is good for us as far as saving manpower and we don’t infect anybody. I’m glad it’s back and they are trying to make sure we do the responsible thing with our waste,” Russell-Hughes said.

On the other hand, further residents disagreed that the drop-off sites were helpful to the recycling situation in Harlingen.

Debi Warner, member at Reinvent Harlingen Recycling, past member of the Keep Harlingen Beautiful group, said the proposition is not an improvement to the problem.

Warner attended the protest on July 1 where recycling advocates asked for the reopening of the center.

“ I am glad we are doing something but the city said they closed the recycling center because of contamination and people can put anything on these bins,” Warner said.

For her, a better option would be to have staff available to help assist residents who come drop off their materials.

“ Having people here to help would be good. If you look at the example of the recycling center in McAllen they have a much better way of doing things. They recycle more materials and they also have an attended-on duty that can answer questions and make sure the bins don’t get contaminated with garbage,” Warner said.

Because she is worried about contracting COVID-19, Warner was not driving to McAllen to drop off her materials and stopped her recycling while the center was closed.

“ The Reinvent Harlingen Recycling people have volunteered to come and help and do some education programs and they won’t allow us,” she said.

Joe Garcia arrived with bags of recyclables but was discontent with the setup and size of the bins.

“ McAllen’s is much better. So far Harlingen has poor recycling thinkers and it aggravates me. I wouldn’t mind paying another four, ten dollars a month if they would just think this through,” Garcia said.

“ McAllen’s is more open, you drive up and sort it out. Here I have to put it through that little slit,” he said.

Garcia said before the center closed in March and staff was present it was better. Yet, he still considers McAllen’s center a better option for him.

“ I went every other month to McAllen when this was closed but I will keep going now. I don’t like this at all. I would like the bins more accessible and a note plastic bags are not permitted,” he said.

According to a press release, the City of Harlingen will be seeking requests for proposals from private companies interested in taking over the recycling operations.