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Austin begins public portion of its solid waste master plan

Wednesday, September 1, 2010 by Michael Kanin

A group of about 100 interested people took part in the first city-sponsored workshop for Austin’s future solid waste master plan Tuesday night. The event, hosted by the city’s Solid Waste Services Department, featured an early glimpse at both the process that will be used to produce the plan and some of what may appear in the document itself.


The event featured a presentation by the firm hired to help the city develop the master plan, HDR. In it, the consultants explored a broad range of options that could be factored into the final product. They also discussed the results of research projects that they had conducted to examine waste-reduction efforts in other municipalities and sources of local support for Austin’s zero waste initiative.


Still, much of what was presented could be classified as early exploration. Indeed, a break-out session that was called after the presentation produced a whole other set of ideas for the city and HDR to work with.


The city’s Solid Waste Services director, Bob Gedert, told In Fact Daily that the evening had been helpful. “(There were) good public comments, good innovative ideas — things that we wouldn’t think of in the government world,” he said. Specifically, Gedert cited “good thought about entrepreneurship, good thoughts about utilizing existing resources” and “keep it local” ideas.


HDR’s suggestions seemed to focus in on potential partnerships that the city could negotiate with local businesses, governmental entities, and non-profits. Here, they unveiled the results of a local survey that had produced interested responses from, among others, the cities of Cedar Park and Georgetown, the Austin Independent School District, the University of Texas, and Goodwill Industries.


The firm’s research examined best implementation practices and successful public-private couplings. They also looked into voluntary take-back programs — initiatives under which private firms voluntarily step in to reuse or recycle some of the waste that is created by their products — and the regulation of waste service providers.


The citizen groups, which featured faces that would be familiar to anyone who has attended a Solid Waste Advisory Commission meeting, addressed some of HDR’s suggestions and produced some of their own. These included a potential Austin-area eco industrial park, predictable industry concern over regulation, and calls for local small-business involvement.


Gary Liss, who penned Austin’s Council-approved zero waste plan, told In Fact Daily that the city had made “a lot of progress” since his plan was published in December of 2008. “We’ve been out to a number of facilities, seen … investments that have been made, innovation that’s happened, new partnerships that have been developed that were envisioned in the zero waste plan that would happen with this type of commitment,” he said. “It’s happening.”


Still, hurdles remain. Area restaurateurs, for example, are concerned about the potential of a mandatory recycling program. “There are significant barriers that we need to work on — cost factors, space factors,” said Gedert. “The largest issue with the restaurants is the variability of the different restaurants. It’s a lot of sub-industries with a lot of different waste flows and space issues. One thing I heard also from them is the different agencies that they need to deal with … and the need for the coordination of city services. So what I heard was barriers that we can overcome. I didn’t hear anything that we couldn’t overcome.”


Gedert noted that the issues could cause a delay in the inclusion of restaurants in a mandatory recycling program.


The next step in the process for the master plan is a charette tentatively scheduled for Nov. 9 and 10.

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