16 April 2012

Trash Talk

Last week I had the pleasure of talking with some folks from Austin Resource Recovery, the city department responsible for dealing with our garbage. Until recently, this department was called Solid Waste Services, but in light of the city's "zero waste" goal, it made sense to change the name to focus on opportunities to recycle and otherwise divert resources from the landfill.

The City Council has adopted a goal of zero waste by 2040, which means, in practical terms, that waste sent to area landfills would be reduced by 90% by that year (presumably that last 10% truly cannot be avoided, so a 90% reduction would be considered a 100% success). However, once this task was handed down to Austin Resource Recovery (which I'll refer to as ARR...I bet they really get into Talk Like a Pirate Day), they decided to set the more aggressive goal of 2030.

ARR has left no stone unturned in its quest to achieve that goal. (Last year they even produced a "Biggest Loser"-type TV show aimed at reducing household waste.) Among their most visible efforts are the curbside recycling program and the increasingly smaller garbage carts they make available, with smaller carts costing less each month. On a personal note, we recently downsized from the 32-gallon cart to the new 21-gallon size.

Unfortunately, the 21-gallon cart had some design issues -- with a big bump-out projecting into the middle of the cart, it's virtually impossible to make use of the full space. Here it is with just one small bag in it:

The ARR people assure me they're working on a redesign so that all 21 gallons will be usable. (They joked that ball bearings are about the only thing that will fit into the bottom of the cart.) Fortunately, we make so little trash -- maybe a bag like that one every other week or so -- that it's not a big deal for us. (Side note: when I called 311 to order the smaller cart, I was disappointed that the woman tried to talk me out of it, not because of the awkward shape, but because "it's only 75 cents less than the 32-gallon cart.")

Of course, we throw away so little because we recycle everything we can, and ARR continues to improve the city's single-stream curbside recycling program (which makes recycling incredibly easy by enabling residents to put all recyclables in a single bin).

But curbside garbage and recycling service is just the beginning for ARR. And that's how folks like these guys, Woody and Aiden, fit in:

With backgrounds in engineering and supply chain management, they are involved in developing and implementing new programs to expand the reach of ARR. Three innovative things that they are working on are (1) encouraging businesses to switch from materials in their products and packaging that consumers won't be able to recycle, such as composite materials (an "out of sight, out of mind" issue for a lot of folks in industry who don't necessarily see where their products end up), (2) working to find local customers for the materials ARR collects and sorts from the curbside recycling program, so the city's recyclables don't have to be sent across the country to be put to use, and (3) being actively involved in the city's purchasing processes, making sure that businesses that are on board with the first two objectives are rewarded for their efforts. ARR is also putting together resources to match up folks with random "waste"-type items (old bicycle tubes, for example) with places they can take them to be recycled or reused (Jack and Adam's Bicycles, which gives the tubes to someone who upcycles them into useful items).

ARR also oversees the city's composting program, including a course in how to do it and rebates for composter purchases (which I wrote about here). And on the subject of composting, I'm hoping that a system like this (which I saw at the farmers' market in San Francisco earlier this year) will soon become common around town:

And I would be remiss if I wrote about waste reduction and didn't mention the bag ordinance that the City Council recently passed. Starting in March 2013, Austin will join the exclusive club of cities that don't allow single-use bags. Click here for more details about the bag ordinance. (Suddenly feeling motivated to invest in some good reusable shopping bags? I have a bunch of these and love how they roll up into a tiny bundle that easily fits into your purse or pocket. These look pretty awesome, too.)

Let's wrap up with a reminder of what we're working toward -- keeping this beautiful:

And a big thank-you to the folks from ARR who were kind enough to tell me all about what's new in their world (and coming soon to ours).

1 comment:

  1. San Francisco is quite progressive on the recycling side of things. Folks there get three bins: one for recyclables, one for compostables, and one for trash.

    The worms get the postables at our house...