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City Council orders restaurants to compost organic waste by 2018

Friday, June 13, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Austin City Council members Thursday approved changes to city ordinances that will require food service permit holders to begin composting organic waste by 2018. Under the measure, full enforcement of the new rules will not come until a year later.


Council members’ actions came over the objections of Skeeter Miller, representing the Greater Austin Restaurant Association. Miller worried about a lack of composting infrastructure.


“In light of the pilot program the infrastructure (is) not in place for the composting piece of the ordinance,” Miller said. “It was very expensive, there are not enough haulers for a competitive bidding process – and I’m extremely concerned over the next few years if that will come in place. There is the hope for it – but in the restaurant business, hope is not a strategy.”


Zero waste supporters and representatives from waste handlers argued that the city and its waste service providers are ready. “We have a major opportunity to capture these food scraps, these compostables,” said Texas Zero Waste Strategies president Stacy Guidry.


Guidry turned to the question of capacity. She invoked several waste processers and haulers. “We have the capacity. You’ve already heard from (Texas Disposal Systems), you’ll hear from the Compost Peddlers, and we have Organics by Gosh,” she said. “We really want to see the market respond to the demands. We’re going to see businesses pop up to cover this. And just because a pilot program four years ago may have experienced a few dings here and there . . . that’s why we have pilot programs.”


The composting rules are part of a larger city effort to bring municipal contributions to landfill waste by 90 percent by 2040. Residential composting programs are already in place.


Recommendations from advisory bodies suggested a host of implementation dates for citywide food service composting. The city’s Zero Waste Advisory Commission eventually settled on a 2019 date. Under clarifying language approved by that body, food service permit holders of facilities larger than 15,000 square feet would have to begin composting in 2016.


Council Member Chris Riley noted city plans for a “soft enforcement period” – one that would delay effective enforcement by up to two years.


Council Member Laura Morrison made the motion to approve the 2018 date. Morrison argued that the soft enforcement approach for a 2019 date would actually push to 2021 the date that food service facilities subject to that deadline would face enforcement.


Morrison’s motion passed unanimously, as did an accompanying resolution that will set rules around the policy.

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