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Materials Marketplace boosts Zero Waste plan

Monday, September 8, 2014 by Gene Davis

City officials are touting a new initiative they say will move Austin toward its Zero Waste goals while helping businesses along the way.

The Austin Materials Marketplace is a business-to-business material reuse program. Basically, the initiative created an online database that connects businesses looking to discard unwanted materials with other businesses that could use those materials.

“The concept is that so-called waste from an industry could be a new resource for another industry,” Austin Resource Recovery Director Bob Gedert said. “It’s a trading place.”

The initiative’s mission is to prevent the unwanted materials from unnecessarily ending up in a landfill. The initiative falls within the city’s Zero Waste goal of reducing the amount of trash sent to landfills by 90 percent by 2040. Joaquin Mariel, the executive director of Ecology Action of Texas and outreach project coordinator of the Austin Materials Marketplace, added that the marketplace moves the Zero Waste initiatives beyond the residential recycling program and into industrial and commercial high-level waste diversion.

“This creates an opportunity for those commercial and industrial waste producers to get involved with this goal and help the city hit the Zero Waste goal,” Mariel said.

Austin Resource Recovery, U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development, and Ecology Action of Texas launched the Austin Materials Marketplace earlier this month. The U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development has launched similar business-to-business material reuse projects in cities such as Houston, Chicago, Columbus and Seattle.

However, the Austin Materials Marketplace is the first such marketplace sponsored and funded by a municipality. The city is paying $175,000 per year for two years to launch the program. The city’s goal is for the marketplace to be largely self-sufficient after these two years.

Mariel said the city sponsorship allows businesses to participate in the marketplace for free for the first two years. The funding also allows for a full-time staff member to facilitate the program. Gedert said having “boots on the ground” is key to the program’s success.

“Market databases have been around for a long time, and they become static over time unless you have someone proactively trying to match up businesses based on wants and needs,” he said. “This project is designed to be very proactive in capturing the material and making the connection.”

Gedert is optimistic about the Austin Resource Recovery’s chances for success. By 2020, Gedert said the amount of materials collected and redistributed through the Austin Materials Marketplace could exceed the curbside residential program, which collects 4,800 tons on a weekly basis.

“Many businesses are saying they are starting to look at waste treatment in a different way,” Gedert said. “That’s exactly what we want to hear.”

For more information on the program, go the city website.

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