Austin falling short of its recycling goals

Local

The City of Austin has an ambitious goal of keeping 75 percent of its trash out of the landfill by 2020, but six months into 2019, we’re barely halfway there.

Ultimately, the city wants to be “Zero Waste by 2040,” meaning it wants 90 percent of the city’s waste recycled, reused or composted.

However, Austin’s Zero Waste Advisory Commission members say they’re concerned the city isn’t making progress.

Melissa Rothrock, a member of the commission, told KXAN the current diversion rate is at about 38 percent. She said, “All your recyclables, all your composting, food scrap, pizza boxes, paper and napkins should be diverted out of your landfill bin into your compost bin, into your recycling bin, so those things don’t go into landfill.”

She said as more people move to Austin, new and current Austinites should pay closer attention to recycling more and do it right. “We have a huge population surge of new people moving here from all over the world,” Rothrock explained. “Some people don’t necessarily care as much about recycling as others.”

According to Austin Resource Recovery, the City of Austin directly controls only about 15 percent of the waste stream. They said that’s generated by residential curbside customers.

The rest, 85 percent, comes from commercial and multi-family properties, and they’re served by private trash haulers.

The city does have in place the Universal Recycling Ordinance to influence how private businesses can recycle and reuse, but Austin Resource Recovery emphasized, it takes the community as a whole to reach zero waste.

Kaiba White, another member of the Zero Waste Advisory Commission, told KXAN recycling isn’t always easy at private multi-family communities. She said, often, those properties’ recycling bins are much smaller than their dumpsters.

A dumpster and recycling bins at an apartment complex in southeast Austin. (KXAN photo/Yoojin Cho)

She said the minimum recycling capacity multi-family communities are required to provide is about six and a half gallon per household. She said single-family homes get 48-gallon carts.

So when the smaller recycling bins fill up faster than the dumpsters, White said, “Even those who may otherwise recycle end up just putting their recyclable material into the trash dumpster, and of course, then it just makes its way to the landfill from there.”

Several advisory commission members said they noticed what’s working in San Antonio to encourage more accurate recycling.

If someone puts recyclable materials into dumpsters or throw away items that cannot be reused into recycling bins, “They’re given a $25 fine,” said Rothrock. “They have the option to take an education course, just like defensive driving, if you don’t want to pay your fine.”

The commission members said they’re not suggesting Austin start issuing citations right now.

But they want to see more outreach and education programs to teach people about recycling.

White also said the city could consider requiring all apartments to provide at least 24 gallons of recycling per household. The commission is actually in the process of gathering information about making that happen.

“We need to start thinking outside the box, and we need to be more assertive with our policies and programs here in Austin,” said White.

Austin Resource Recovery sent these tips you should follow:

  • Recycle and compost correctly – a recent city-wide study showed that more than 80% of everything Austin sent to landfill could have been recycled or composted. By recycling and composting correctly we keep these materials out the landfill move closer to zero waste.  
  • Reduce – don’t buy things you don’t need, and when you do, purchase items that are reusable and then recyclable when you are done with them.  Avoid single-use plastic items that are hard to recycle like thin plastic bags and straws.
  • Reuse and donate- when you no longer want an item, ask yourself if someone else can use it. You can donate to a local non-profit or someone you know. Visit the Austin Reuse Directory for donation locations. You could also sell it, or even re-purpose it into something new.

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