Austin's Trash is Recyclable?

May 4, 2016 - 8:49 am


By Hannah Kronke

When it comes to recycling, people may wonder what difference it makes and if their actions actually make a significant, noticeable impact. Understandably, it’s often difficult to see how the little things add up, but I recently found out that they do—in a major way!

Thanks to an innovative new study from Austin Resource Recovery, the reality of Austin’s accumulation of waste from residential homes, apartments, condos and commercial properties is now undoubtedly visible.

The study measured all materials from not just single-family homes, but also Austin’s businesses, apartment complexes and condos. The City doesn’t pick up recycling and trash from apartments, condos or businesses, and single-family homes (where the city does pick up trash and recycling) only contribute about 15 percent of all materials going to the landfill. Because of this, the study was important in finding out what everyone in the community is doing to recycle, compost or otherwise divert from the landfill.

Imagine this: Over 170,000 City buses lined bumper-to-bumper—they’d reach from Austin to Illinois. Now picture those buses filled with reusable, recyclable and compostable items. Now envision all of those materials being trucked over and dumped in the landfill. This is essentially what happened in Austin over the past year!

According to Austin Resource Recovery’s new community-wide study, the total amount of valuable materials that went to landfill in 2015 adds up to 916,790 tons. That’s enough stuff to fill 171,159 buses!

Even as an Austin Resource Recovery intern, I was stunned to see the study’s results. The study showed that more than 80 percent of what is being buried or incinerated could have been recycled, composted or reused! I knew there were useful materials being tossed away, but never imagined that it was that much.

Being a native Austinite, the findings were particularly alarming to me. Considered one of the greenest cities in the country, Austin has made great strides in its Zero Waste goal of keeping 90 percent of its waste out of landfills by 2040. However, our benchmark goal for 2015 was a diversion rate of 50 percent and we came up short, at 42 percent diversion.

The findings can be encouraging though since the study proves that Zero Waste isn’t just a lofty goal; it’s something we could achieve today if we all worked together (businesses and residents) to divert all the compostable and recyclable materials from the landfills.

Now, we have the opportunity to take what we’ve learned and work together as a community to ramp up Austin’s waste diversion efforts. Here are a few next steps I’ll be encouraging fellow students, friends and family to start doing today:

Reuse as much as possible. Donate items to charities, thrift stores, or businessnes that can make items into new products.

Repair things that are broken instead of buying new items. You'll save money and do good for the environment.

Donate unused food or compost it to keep organics out of the landfill. About 37% of Austin's landfill consisted of compostable material.

Speak up if you want recycling services at your apartment complex, condo or workplace. By letting property managers or customer service staff know you want access to recycling and composting, we can all make a difference.

Call 3-1-1 If your property manager does not help out with recycling containers and/or access, call the City to let them know about it. There is a law called the Universal Recycling Ordinance that says all apartment complexes with 10 or more units must provide recycling services to tenants and employees.