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Task force talks trash – and cash for recycling at all Austin parks and facilities

Friday, August 17, 2018 by DaLyah Jones

This story was mistakenly re-published in October, 2019. It was originally published in 2018.

The Parks and Recreation Recycling Task Force is recommending several different ways to pay for consistent recycling around Austin.

City Council approved the task force in June to support the city’s Zero Waste Plan. The plan, passed in 2009, aims to reduce landfill waste by 90 percent by 2040. Although the city has implemented programs dedicated to waste reduction – like the now flopped ban on single-use plastic bags – city officials are looking to provide more comprehensive recycling and compost options at city parks.

Rick Cofer, chairman of the task force, said those options are “sorely lagging.”

“You have recycling at some parks and some places, but the overwhelmingly majority of Austin parks just don’t have any recycling at all,” he said. “And if we’re going to talk the talk on recycling, the city needs to walk the walk.”

The two budget plans the task force proposed are:

  • Option A: A one-year plan that would cost more than $1.3 million; money would come from the city’s budget, donors and a monthly clean community fee increase as high as 31 cents
  • Option B: A two-year plan that would cost about $802,500; the option would allocate money from the same sources as Option A, but would increase monthly clean community fees only up to 16 cents.

Task force member Kaiba White said the group is leaning toward Option B.

“Beyond the cost, there’s also some other potential holdups in getting this done in a year,” she said. “There is a need for actual planning to go into this process, and that really hasn’t happened yet.”

Money from both plans would go toward 800 additional receptacles and 900 signs at all Parks and Recreation facilities, a recycling program coordinator, a parks ground specialist, public education, temporary employees, and ongoing collection and hauling services.

In October 2016, the Parks and Recreation Department started a recycling pilot program, which included expanding recycling to a few year-round and seasonal pools – including Deep Eddy, Barton Springs and Bartholomew – three metropolitan parks, neighborhood parks and athletic fields. The city wanted to better understand waste streams, waste reduction and how to increase recycling without compromising the level of service provided to the community.

Because of a lack of resources, Cofer said, the department was unable to collect any hard data during the pilot, which ended this month. But, he said, there was a major reduction in trash.

“One of the reasons we need staffing to support this program is to get some hard data and to show it’s successful,” he said.

The parks department oversees more than 20,000 acres of green spaces, 51 aquatic facilities, 26 recreation and senior centers, and 700 employees.

“To have all of these Parks and Recreation facilities without recycling didn’t send the right message to the public,” White said.

If City Council approves a budget, the city will be able to hire staff and acquire resources for the first phase of the plan, which includes providing recycling and compost bins at all aquatic facilities, athletic complexes, metropolitan parks and golf courses. The second phase of the plan would put bins in district parks, and the third phase would focus on neighborhood parks and facilities.

“The signage that you see for Bergstrom for recycling and landfill trash should be consistent from the airport to the bus stop to the streetscape on Congress Avenue to our parks to inside buildings,” Cofer said. “It’s about creating a whole integrated approach to waste diversion that is familiar and accessible.”

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Julia Reihs/KUT.

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