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City composting may soon expand, go high-tech

Tuesday, November 14, 2017 by Jessi Devenyns

A month after select Austin residents received their green compost bins to expand the city’s composting pilot program, the time has come to assess the success of the program’s reception. On Nov. 8, Emlea Chanslor, Austin Resource Recovery acting division manager, came to the Zero Waste Advisory Commission meeting to present preliminary findings from the rollout of the composting pilot program.

Much of what she shared was expected. Of the 38,000 new customers who have received the service, the majority have responded favorably to the city’s new waste-reduction program. “So far, we’re getting good reports from the field,” said Chanslor. She also said that when Austin Resource Recovery expanded its program education efforts through open house meetings, “there were lines out the door at almost all meetings because we had a limited number of kitchen collectors to offer.”

Now that the department has determined that the pilot program has been successful, Chanslor said that it is looking at areas to expand the composting program. So far it has identified 9,000 addresses where it thinks that introducing this program through door-to-door outreach will have the most impact. She explained the selection method: “Basically we were looking at not the best recyclers and not the worst recyclers.” Already the department has contacted neighborhood associations that overlap with expansion areas to help get a head start on introducing the composting program into new areas.

Although adding an organics waste receptacle to the routine appears to be an easy task, Chanslor said that educational efforts are still required. Resource Recovery does not want people merely to compost, it wants them to do it correctly.

Although Austin Resource Recovery has not yet implemented the capability, the compost bins that it is providing to residents are RFID chip enabled. Chanslor explained that this technology will help with the implementation of the composting program in several ways. “We will know when they’re being set out,” she said. In addition, it will also help refuse vehicle drivers record when they identify contamination in the compost bins.

Ron Romero, the manager for the collection services division, explained, “We currently have 10 trucks that we are piloting on the vehicle fleet technology update. In these trucks, there will be a button where the driver identifies contamination. He’ll be able to hit the button and detail it, and we’ll be able to run reports and get that information.” The idea is that collecting such detailed data will help with outreach and reinforcement of proper participation in the program.

“We see this as being able to get the data and re-educate the customer. This system will help us identify those who buck the system,” said Romero.

This story has been corrected since publication to clarify that the pilot program has been in place for several years and to correct the type of outreach performed by the city.

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