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Panel’s resolution to explore trash-route efficiencies raises questions

Tuesday, August 14, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

A hastily passed resolution that calls on city staff to explore the efficiencies of trash routes had stakeholders clamoring for answers at the Zero Waste Advisory Commission last week.


The controversy comes a month after Zero Waste commissioners passed the resolution, which gives Austin Resource Recovery 60 days to return to the commission with options to “reduce mileage of trash routes through a north/south split of trash disposal.” Though the item didn’t attract much attention at the commission’s July meeting, questions have since been raised about its implications and the manner in which it came before the board.


“I did feel a little like the process was rushed,” said Zero Waste Advisory Commissioner Brent Perdue, who voted in favor of the plan, which passed on a 5-0 vote. “I didn’t see the resolution distributed beforehand and vote came up and went down pretty quickly. I, of course, share responsibility in that as a commissioner.”

I am interested in looking at an alternative, or potentially, counter resolution for next meeting on this issue,” Perdue continued. “It’s unclear to me what the intent is. …That does give me some cause for concern.”


“Currently, trash collected by the city goes to the Texas Disposal Systems landfill in southeast Travis County. A north-south split, with an undetermined North Austin landfill taking 33 percent of the trash, could see some trash diverted to landfills that have had a less than stellar relationship with Austin.”


“The Commission first brought up the resolution in July. It passed unanimously with little discussion from commissioners. Commissioners Fayez Kazi and Cathy Gattuso were absent.”


Purdue was joined in his concerns by a host of Austinites. Barr Mansion owner Melanie McAfee said she was, “upset, discouraged and troubled” by the decision to pass the resolution.


“I hope you can enlighten me, and explain your resolution passed last month wanting to explore a north/ south landfill split. … I find it myopic and, more troubling, a recipe for disaster,” McAfee continued.


McAfee also questioned the wisdom of pursuing the instructions in the resolution when a similar rerouting of recycling collection, which would provide information on cost savings, is close to being enacted by the city.


“Why make such a huge decision with statistics so close in coming?” asked McAfee. “If you decide to give 60 percent of waste to the north, where will it go? Why was there absolutely no discussion on this issue? Which landfill does ZWAC now favor in northeast Austin?”


Andrew Dobbs with the Austin Zero Waste Alliance said that his organization was opposed to any kind of north/south split. Dobbs said that he was deeply concerned that trash would be sent to a facility that was not up to current standard.


“The options that we know that are up there don’t fulfill the values of this city,” Dobbs said. “It would be an overstatement to say ‘categorically opposed’ to any company. … I am opposed to things just being brought up at the last second and just surprising the hell out of people – even people on this commission. … I would say that is the main thing that I am opposed to right now.”


Texas Campaign for the Environment Executive Director Robin Schneider also expressed concern with the resolution. She reminded the commission that a decade ago, there were numerous problems with the former BFI landfill and the Waste Management landfill, which were both fined by the state for violations.


“City Council took strong stands against the expansion of those two landfills and took stands against the City using those landfills,” said Schneider. “I think that we should look at transfer station options, but I hope that this commission does not back down from the position that this commission has taken in the past, that City Council has taken in the past, against landfills that have been operated poorly.”

A waste transfer station is a facility where municipal solid waste is dropped off from collection trucks and stored temporarily until it is reloaded on larger trucks for shipment to landfills.

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