AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin City Council voted on Thursday to approve a rule to require multifamily residential properties (any building with five or more dwelling units) to provide disposal for compostable materials, such as food waste, starting in October 2024.

Austin Resource Recovery, the city department behind the rule, calls it an important step towards a goal to reduce solid waste by 2040.

“More than half of Austinites live in multifamily communities but most don’t have access to composting collection services,” said Richard McHale, Austin Resource Recovery director, in a press release. “Keeping food scraps and other organic material out of the landfill is important to make the most out of the planet’s finite resources and to help Austin reach its zero waste goal.”

The rule will affect “apartments, condos, dorms, assisted living facilities and nursing homes,” according to the release. For each dwelling unit, the property must provide:

  • convenient access to commercial composting services;
  • one gallon of composting capacity per unit, with no overflowing containers; and,
  • education for tenants and employees on how to use the composting service.

Learning Curve

Gena McKinley, an assistant director in the department, said that the rule has been in the works for several years and already tested at a few properties in the city.

“We heard from a lot of tenants, they were very excited to have access to compost. Some didn’t weren’t that familiar with compost, and it took some learning,” McKinley said. “There’s a bit of a learning curve for compost, both from a collection side and from our understanding what goes into a compost cart. Really, people are already taking those materials and putting them in a trash container.”

Education is just one hurdle that property owners and tenants will face. Cecil Domel, a regional supervisor with property management company Belco Equities Inc., also identified two other hurdles: affordability and sanitation.

“We’re still waiting to see how this is gonna further affect affordability because we don’t know the cost of this yet…this is a cost that’s going to be absorbed by the resident,” Domel said. “What we’re hoping for, is that the containers remain as sanitary as possible. If they’re dirty, if they’re not kept up, they could pose a rodent issue.”

Austin Resource Recovery offers rebates of up to $3,000 are available for properties to start or expand composting prior to July 2024.

“In theory, it’s a great idea, we just hope that we have the support that we need to communicate this to our residents and and make this a successful program,” Domel said. “We hope that the city is willing to listen if this program is not working because ultimately, we’re the boots on the ground. We’ll see how this is affecting the residents and the property. So we just hope that the powers that be just remain open to our input down the road.”

What is compostable?

Material diverted to composting through Austin Resource Recovery is taken to a commercial compost processing facility, McKinley said.

According to the department, a 2015 “Community Diversion Study” reported that 85% of Austin’s solid waste material came from the “commercial and multifamily sector” and 37% of that waste was compostable.

The majority of compost includes food scraps and food-soiled paper, as well as BPI-certified compostable products. Clothing, liquids, diapers, pet and medical waste should not be put into compost, however.

“We’re very excited to have this new requirement in place because it means that we’re really targeting a large amount of material that’s being generated,” McKinley said. “Rather than it potentially going to a landfill…that material will be composted, which takes us even closer to our zero waste goal as a city.”