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Whose job it is to provide recycling in Austin parks?

Thursday, August 31, 2017 by Jessi Devenyns

Austin’s Universal Recycling Ordinance mandates that by Oct. 1, all commercial properties in Austin will be required to provide recycling. However, open spaces, including public parks, are not included in the current ordinance, which leaves the Parks and Recreation Department wondering how it will provide recycling to the 20,000 acres that it manages.

For Fiscal Year 2016-17, the Parks and Recreation Department took it upon itself to ensure that Austin parks offered recycling, and requested $510,000 to fund the pilot phase of the recycling program to that end. The requested funding would have included a budget for recycling receptacles, six new full-time employees and staff training. The department was denied the funds.

However, Liana Kallivoka, the assistant director of the Parks and Recreation Department, acknowledged at the Parks and Recreation Board’s Aug. 22 meeting that the department did secure $50,000 in funding from the nonprofit Austin Parks Foundation. She said that the donation is expected to recur annually, as the Zero Waste Advisory Commission has suggested to City Council that it prioritize recycling for city parks.

Despite the limited funding for the parks department, Kallivoka said, “We have almost 700 full-time employees, more than 1,200 seasonal part-time employees, and many of them are involved in managing recycling efforts for the department.” She followed this up by saying that still, “We don’t have the money we need or the full-time employees we need.” As a result, Parks will be working to incrementally implement recycling throughout its open spaces.

One of the first incremental steps that the department took was to partner with Austin Resource Recovery at the Trail of Lights. After the success seen with the recycling efforts offered at this annual festival, “Now we offer recycling at all of the events in our parks,” said Kallivoka.

The assistant director did indicate that despite the success that staff has seen, the cost still prohibits the department from making recycling a permanent fixture in all city outdoor space. “The containers capacity is much bigger outdoors than indoors, which makes them costlier, and they have to be weather and pest resistant,” said Kallivoka.

To compare it financially, an average indoor recycling bin costs around $20 to $30. The outdoor equivalent can cost $500.

Therefore, Kallivoka said that another strategy is to motivate people to minimize their impact on outdoor space. She suggested, “It might be more effective to educate the users of the parks to take their waste back home and recycle it there.”

She again made it clear that the main obstacle to the parks department’s mission, as well as that of the Zero Waste Advisory Commission, is a lack of funding.

Board Member Tom Donovan responded to Kallivoka’s reiteration about financial struggles by asking, “Is there any way you can forecast if there is any way you’ll be making money?”

Austin Resource Recovery Interim Director Richard McHale answered. “The recycling markets are really depressed right now. We don’t make any money off it,” he said. McHale also noted that the collection of waste and recycling is primarily handled by outside contractors. Austin Resource Recovery only handles 15 percent.

Board Member Rick Cofer wondered if it would be possible for Austin Resource Recovery to have parks’ recycling incorporated into the Clean Community Fee that Austin residents pay monthly in order to help expedite the introduction of recycling into parks.

Board Member Michael Casias interjected to say that regardless of the solution, Parks should leave it to Austin Resource Recovery. “They’re in this business, we’re not in this business,” he said. “We don’t need the full-time employees in Parks to do this, we’re not going to get the money anyways.”

Photo by Incase made available through a Creative Commons license.

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