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City broadens recycling program for multi-family, commercial buildings

Friday, November 5, 2010 by Michael Kanin

On Thursday, the Austin City Council approved a resolution that will bring mandatory recycling to an expanded list of multi-family dwellings and corporate office spaces. The move, which came on a unanimous vote, is the first phase of a two-step process that will eventually grow to mandate recycling for restaurants and other industries not covered by yesterday’s action. 

 

The Council’s action came amid questions about what the cost of the new recycling effort will be to building managers or residents. Though current city waste rate payers will not see an increase in their monthly charges, offices and multi-family units will have to contract with private hauling firms to handle their recycling.

 

This first part of the program will phase in new users, starting with the largest properties in October 2012. All of the properties newly subject to mandatory recycling will be actively involved by 2015.

 

During the hearing, Council Member Bill Spelman asked about the potential costs for Austin’s newest recyclers. “How much (is this) going to cost the apartment owners (and) the office managers?” he asked.

 

Solid Waste Services Director Bob Gedert told Spelman that they didn’t have a solid number. “It is really tough to answer that,” he said. “The apartment complex managers, as we work through this issue with their association, are very concerned about that. There is a pass-along fee to add new service. We don’t know how much of an impact, economically, that will be.”

 

After the hearing, he told In Fact Daily that the city cannot have a direct hand in costs associated with the program. “There are private sector service providers – recyclers – who provide services like this,” he said. “We can look at that pricing and project costs to the tenants at this time based on that. But at this time that is a relationship between the service provider and the property owners.”

 

Gedert noted that some of those property owners had expressed concerns about costs. “We haven’t detected any effort by any of the service providers to raise the prices exorbitantly,” he said, adding that the city could do some things to prevent high costs.

 

“Part of keeping the costs down is making sure that the bins are adequately accessed by the tenants and the service provider. Another cost saving method is to make sure that there is no contamination in the recycling,” he continued. “That’s a big issue and that’s an education issue. The city is committed to working on the education front line to minimize that contamination.”  

 

He added that as the properties began seeing more recycling traffic, their costs should be offset. “In my experience with recycling, generally you’re not generating more waste—you’ve got the same amount of waste. What you’re doing is you’re choosing to put it in a recycling container rather than a waste container,” he said. “So, in theory, as you add a new service on recycling, you also reduce your waste hauling costs.”

 

According to a memo Gedert wrote to the City Council, the rules apply only to “Multi-family, Commercial Non-residential Office Use, and Institutions, such as non-profits, religious buildings, medical facilities, private educational facilities and day care” for now. Phase Two, he wrote, will grow to include “Food Service (Restaurants, Caterers, Grocers, etc.), Retail, Hotel/Motel, Event Facilities, Industrial, and Manufacturing.”

 

The city’s Solid Waste Services department will spend roughly $600,000 on support costs associated with the new initiative. At least half of that figure will go toward new staff and office space.

 

Other costs include education, signs, and a web site that will be used to collect data from program participants. That information will be used as an enforcement tool.

 

Both the new and future additions to mandatory recycling are part of the department’s Zero Waste Initiative. With it, Gedert hopes to achieve a 90 percent waste diversion plateau which would see the city sending the bulk of its trash to facilities other than a landfill. In the past, he’s told In Fact Daily that he would like to achieve this goal by 2030 instead of the Council-mandated  2040 date.

 

Properties that don’t comply with the new ordinance language will face a possible fine.

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