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Changes proposed to new fees for trash collection

Tuesday, August 19, 2008 by Mark Richardson

As the city’s Solid Waste Service Department switches over to a Single Stream recycling program this fall, members of the Solid Waste Advisory Commission are urging the city to put more of a financial incentive in its Pay As You Throw garbage collection program to increase recycling. SWAC members passed a resolution last week encouraging the city to reconsider some of the numbers in its 2009 budget proposal.


City officials are seeking an increase in garbage collection rates – the first in a decade – but are not significantly widening the “rate gap” in order to encourage the use of smaller trash bins. To encourage city staff, the SWAC approved a resolution calling on SWS Director Willie Rhodes and other city officials to reconsider the rates for garbage collection proposed in his department’s 2009 budget. At least one Council member, Mike Martinez, is behind their efforts.


“We think the (SWS) department didn’t really look at the rate gap when they put the budget together,” said SWAC Member Rick Cofer, who sponsored the resolution. “We think they simply looked at the Pay As You Throw rates and adjusted them upward to cover their increased expenses.”


Cofer said that runs counter to the City Council’s stated goal of Zero Waste, which aims to cut the amount of waste sent to the city’s landfill by 20 percent in 2012, and down to zero by 2040.


Single Stream recycling is a major step in that direction, according to SWS officials. The program – which has been running on a pilot basis in four areas of the city for two years — will change from using the current small, open, blue bins collected once a week to a single, 90-gallon, closed bin collected every other week. With the advent of the larger bins, the city will accept more types of materials for recycling and will cut its costs by automating most of its collection, similar to the current system used to collect refuse.


Once the recycling is collected, it will be taken to a new Materials Recycling Facility, or MRF (pronounced Murph), where it will be sorted out into component materials and sold to companies who re-use the recycled materials. Initially, Austin’s recycled materials will be trucked to a MRF in San Antonio for processing, but a local MRF is in the planning stages.


Council Member Martinez said with Single Stream Recycling coming on board, likely in October, SWS needs to both cover its costs and use incentives to push its customers towards smaller trash bins.


I don’t approve of the way it’s been proposed,” he said of the rate hike. “We need to raise our rates,” said Martinez. “Our fuel costs are millions more this year than anticipated and we have to create a strategy to close that funding gap. I think the strategy of the same increase for all the different sizes of a receptacle that we offer – that’s a failed strategy.  Because our goals and our values in Austin are to recycle, to encourage recycling, to encourage minimal waste, then I believe the 30-gallon can should be exponentially cheaper than the 90 gallon.


Martinez said if the city wants to incentivize and educate people about recycling and landfill issues and being a green city, then it needs to start putting policy ideas forward that speak to that.


In the proposed budget, the rate for a 30-gallon bin is scheduled to increase from $11.75 to $16.15 a month, a 60-gallon trash bin from $14.50 to $20.65 a month, and a 90-gallon trash bin from $17.25 to $24.15 a month. The SWAC proposal would keep the rates for a 30-gallon bin at about $12, with the 60-gallon bin increasing to around $20 to $25 and the 90-gallon bin to between $30 and $35.


But Martinez expects staff to bring back a rate increase of only 25 cents for the smallest size container with rates on the other bins to make up the difference.


He told In Fact Daily he thinks it would be smart to coordinate the new recycling program with Pay As You Throw Incentives. “I think that coupled with an incentivized size solid-waste can, it could be a darn good thing,” he said.The timing couldn’t be better to educate folks about how many things you’re throwing away that could be recycled.


A public hearing on the Solid Waste Services proposed 2009 budget is scheduled for 6pm on Aug. 28 before the City Council.

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