Tuesday, June 23, 2015 by Tyler Whitson

City announces recycling-education campaign

Austin residents are sending a lot of recyclables to landfills, and city staff hopes to help change that with a new educational campaign. Austin Resource Recovery Department Director Bob Gedert made the announcement at a press conference on Monday.

“The fact is that more recyclables are going to the landfill than are being recycled in residents’ blue carts,” Gedert said, referring to the city’s curbside recycling carts. “We have a big opportunity to recycle more and we want to work with our customers to help realize our community’s potential to reach our zero-waste goals.”

Gedert explained that staff will be sending out mailers that list common recyclable items to residents in the next few weeks and also will begin a campaign requesting that residents suggest ways the city can help increase the recycling rate. “We’ll be reaching out both face-to-face and digitally so that we can hear from as many Austinites as possible,” he said.

In addition, the city has launched a new Web app on the Austin Resource Recovery website called “What do I do with …” that allows users to search for certain items to determine whether they are recyclable.

The announcement came a few weeks after the city released the results of an independent study that found 44 percent of the city’s curbside garbage pickup consists of items the city accepts as recyclables. Most of these items are either paper or plastic.

“58,000 tons of recyclables are going to the landfill every year from Austin residents,” Gedert said. “Recyclables that are thrown away could fill the (University of Texas) Tower 29 times each year. That’s about once every two weeks.”

That study looked at properties the city services with curbside carts, which includes single-family homes, duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes. It does not take into account properties with dumpster service, such as apartment complexes.

Gedert said the city will commission a study of multifamily properties with more than four units in the fall and hopes to have the results by the end of the year.

Lucia Athens, the director of the Sustainability Office, related the issue to the Community Climate Plan, which sets a goal for the community to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. City Council adopted that plan on June 4.

“If the 58,000 tons of material that Bob mentioned were actually recycled instead of going to the landfill, Austin could avoid adding 178,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere,” Athens said. “That’s the air-quality equivalent of keeping 35,000 cars off the road.”

Gedert said there are also economic benefits to increasing recycling, stating that the recyclables thrown into the landfill annually are worth $4.7 million. “If we were to recycle those materials, we could create more jobs and better jobs than (if we keep) discarding them in the landfill,” he said.

The city’s Zero Waste Strategic Plan, which Council adopted in 2009, sets a goal for the community to divert 90 percent of its waste from landfills through recycling, composting and other means by 2040.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin Office of Sustainability: A branch of city government that works toward increasing the city’s sustainability and reducing the city’s carbon footprint.

Austin Resource Recovery: Formerly Solid Waste Services. The department in charge of handling solid waste disposal, recycling, and--in what is still a pilot program--curb-side composting for the City of Austin.

Austin Zero Waste Plan: First approved in December, 2011, the Austin Zero Waste Plan is the guiding document for the city's Resource Recovery department (formerly the Solid Waste Services Department). It includes a goal of 90 percent landfill diversion (what would statistically, according to the City, amount to zero waste) by 2040.

City of Austin Climate Protection Plan: Austin Energy’s plan to make the city the lead in the fight against global warming. The plan’s goals included powering all city facilities with renewable energy by 2012 and making the city fleet carbon-neutral by 2020.

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