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Mark Richardson is a multimedia journalist, editor and writer who has worked in digital, print and broadcast media for three decades. He is a nationally recognized editor and reporter who has covered government, politics and the environment. A journalism graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, he was recently awarded a Foundation for Investigative Journalism grant and has three Associated Press Managing Editors awards for excellence in reporting.
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Solid Waste and SWAC agree on recycling ordinance changes
Recycling services could become available to almost every family and business in Austin over the next four years if the City Council approves all or most of the changes proposed to the city’s current multifamily/business recycling ordinance.
The Solid Waste Services Department staff and the Solid Waste Advisory Commission worked through their differences over the proposed ordinance at a special called meeting Wednesday night and are recommending a single plan for Council to consider at its Nov. 4 meeting.
The plan, which would not affect the city’s current Single Stream recycling program for single family residences, will phase in smaller multi-family properties (apartments, condos, etc.) and smaller businesses (measured by square footage) over a four-year period, requiring private waste-collection firms to work with landlords and business owners to offer recycling services. The plan will also require the waste firms to accept a wider variety of materials than is required by current city regulations.
The road to an agreement on the plan hit a bump two weeks ago when SWS staff members reviewed their proposal for a new recycling ordinance, which was different in several aspects from a plan approved by SWAC members in June. Commission members complained that staff had sprung its version of the ordinance on them at the last minute and did not give them a chance to compare the two proposals before Council members were to consider it. (See In Fact Daily, Oct. 19, 2010)
SWS Director Bob Gedert said that since then he and his staff had put in a lot of hours going over both proposals, looking for ways to reconcile the differences. He said they paid particular attention to estimating the costs for the program and in a couple of cases had done an about-face on some of the staff’s earlier proposals.
The current plan requires that apartment complexes with 100 or more units and businesses with 100 or more employees provide recycling services for tenants and workers. Apartments are only required to collect four types of recyclable materials, while businesses only need to collect two.
According to the city, there are currently 509 multifamily properties with 100 or more units, or about 20 percent of the 2,436 multifamily properties in the city. There are only 164 businesses with 100,000 sq. ft. or more out of 2,178 commercial offices in the city, or just 7 percent.
The proposal agreed upon by the SWAC would implement the program in two steps. Phase 1 would apply to multi-family, commercial non-residential offices, and institutions including non-profits, religious buildings, medical facilities, private educational buildings, and daycares. Phase two would apply to food service, retail, hotels/motels, event facilities, industrial, and manufacturing buildings.
The program would start with those apartments and businesses currently under the ordinance and would phase in a group of smaller apartments and smaller businesses each year starting in 2012. It would also increase the minimum types of material collected to include mixed paper, two grades of plastic, corrugated cardboard, aluminum cans, and glass. For commercial businesses, the same list would apply, except for glass. Phase 2 would begin after 2012.
SWS staff offered proposed changes to seven areas of the two plans where there were differences, including:
• Renaming the ordinance the Universal Recycling Ordinance;
• Developing a fee structure to fund the program through the SWS Master Plan process, rather than the proposed $2 tenant fee;
• Coordinating with the Public Works Department to avoid putting containers in the right-of-way;
• Incorporating the collection of glass as part of the items to be recycled;
• Having the city provide signs identifying receptacles and other items at no cost to participants;
• Utilizing a third party accounting firm to process reports from the waste haulers to provide confidentiality to the data; and
• Utilizing the consulting firm HDR Engineering to perform a complete cost assessment for full implementation of the program.
Staff estimates that the city’s annual cost for education, outreach, enforcement, and data monitoring would be about $625,000, with the average cost of serving each business or property running about $135 per month. Those costs would be covered as an item in the SWS annual budget.
Currently, the cost of city-provided Single Stream recycling services is a part of each customer’s monthly utility bill, a system that will remain unchanged even if the proposed new ordinance goes into effect. The cost of most of the services mandated under the proposed new recycling ordinance would be included in private contracts between commercial waste hauling companies and individual apartment complexes or businesses.
SWAC members, following a small discussion, approved the staff-suggested compromises between the two plans and voted 6-0 to send a single recommendation to the Council. Chair Gerry Acuña abstained.
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