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Recycling subcommittee to work on making Austin waste free

Friday, September 11, 2009 by Austin Monitor

The City of Austin took another step toward its “zero waste” goal on Wednesday with the first meeting of the Recycling Ordinance Reform Subcommittee, charged with reforming the city’s commercial and multi-family recycling ordinance.

The City Council adopted a goal in January 2009 to reduce the amount of waste the city sends to the landfill by 90 percent by the year 2040.

The purpose of the subcommittee is to help achieve that goal by clarifying and amending a decade-old law mandating recycling for businesses and large apartment complexes.

Although the city provides recycling services for all single-family homes, the 1998 ordinance requires businesses with at least 100 employees, and multi-family residential developments with at least 100 units, to provide their own on-site recycling. Businesses are required to recycle at least two materials, while residential complexes must recycle four.

But it does not state much beyond that. So the city established the recycling subcommittee in August. The idea, according to subcommittee chair Rick Cofer, is to refine the existing law by involving more people and organizations in the reform effort, including environmental protection groups, developers, property management companies and various Austin institutions.

“We’re hoping everyone will be a stakeholder in this process,” said Cofer. “I hope you will approach the podium. We are going to be very solicitous of your input.”

Although some stakeholders were present at Wednesday’s meeting, the subcommittee decided to devote 30 minutes of each of its next four meetings to hearing from representatives of various affected groups. September 23 will be set aside for businesses and commercial entities (restaurants and grocery stores, for example); October 14 will be for residential complexes; October 28 will be for institutions (such as schools and churches); and a November 17 meeting will have time set aside to hear from companies that provide waste hauling services.

In addition, the subcommittee loosely defined specific things it will need to consider in the coming months, including costs, enforcement, penalties, and when the ordinance will take effect and to whom it will apply.

A presentation by SWS sustainability administrator Jessica King outlined aspects of mandatory recycling laws that have been passed in four other U.S. cities: San Francisco, San Diego, Durham, and Gainesville. King cited certain aspects of these cities recycling laws as examples of “best practices.”

San Diego, for example, designed its 2007 recycling law to be phased in gradually with full implementation in 2010. Durham, rather than mandate recycling, simply made it illegal to dispose of recyclable materials. “Some of these ordinances have been difficult to enforce,” King added.

The subcommittee, which in addition to Cofer also includes Gerry Acuña and J.D. Porter, must deliver its recommendations to SWAC in November. The stated goal is to have all the subcommittee’s recommendations to City Council by January 1, 2010.

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