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Almost half of Austin curbside trash recyclable

Monday, May 18, 2015 by Tyler Whitson

Despite the city’s ambitious goal to achieve zero waste by 2040, many Austin residents are sending items to landfills that they could be putting into the city’s blue recycling bins.

Austin Resource Recovery Department Director Robert Gedert told members of the Zero Waste Advisory Commission on Wednesday that, according to a recent study, about 44 percent of the city’s curbside pickup consists of items the city accepts as recyclables.

“Our current program does not need to change to capture that,” Gedert said. “What we need to change is the motivation of the residents and more efficient collection of recyclables at the household level.”

The study also showed that 46.3 percent of the trash surveyed consisted of organic materials, such as food waste, food-soiled paper and yard clippings.

Though the city’s curbside organics collection program is still in its pilot phase, serving about 14,000 households, Gedert said the data represents the program’s potential.

“You add those two together,” Gedert said, “(and) 90 percent of what our residents are currently sending to the landfill in the trash carts that our staff picks up, 90 percent of that material is either compostable or recyclable in the current programs on recycling.”

Gedert pointed out that the study has helped staff identify ways to achieve the Zero Waste Strategic Plan, which City Council adopted in 2009. Despite its name, the plan does not aim literally to achieve zero waste. Instead, it sets a goal for the city to divert 90 percent of its waste from landfills and incinerators by 2040.

“We proclaim to be a green city, we try to be a green city, but we’re not quite there, and we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Gedert said. “We have a long way to go toward our zero waste (goal), and there’s the opportunity right there — it’s the recyclables going in the trash cart.”

Carried out by the Chicago Bridge & Iron Company in September and October, the field sorting study consists of data from cart pickups for residential properties but does not include commercial properties nor multifamily developments such as apartment complexes.

The city commissioned the study as part of the implementation of the Austin Resource Recovery Master Plan, which Council adopted in 2011. That plan recommends updating the study every five years.

The report concludes with a set of short- and long-term recommendations for increasing waste diversion in the city.

Short-term recommendations include continuing consumer education, routinely analyzing diversion rates and expanding the curbside organics collection pilot.

Long-term recommendations consist of banning the disposal of yard trimmings in the trash, providing recycling collection every week and providing trash collection every other week.

The last two recommendations would effectively invert the city’s trash and recycling pickup frequency, as it currently picks up trash on a weekly basis and recycling every other week.

Gedert wrote in a memo to the commission that he “has met with staff regarding these recommendations, and will be presenting changes to department programs in the near future.” He added that Resource Recovery staff will discuss “new directions and program changes” with the commission in the coming months.

Aside from organics, the surveyed waste consisted of 22.8 percent paper, 12.8 percent plastics, 8.7 percent “other” materials, 4.4 percent metals, 3.9 percent glass and 1.2 percent residual waste.


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