What’s up with those violet trash bags appearing around Austin?

A pile of full violet trash bags

By: Bailey Grimmett

The City of Austin Service Design Lab recently launched a garbage collection pilot aimed at reducing the amount of trash and litter build-up in select areas within the City. The big idea? To provide trash bags – violet trash bags – and garbage collection services to individuals experiencing homelessness.

The Violet Bag Program is a six-week pilot wherein violet trash bags and drop-off stations are available at four select areas in the city known for having high volumes of trash. Those within the homeless community are encouraged to use these bags to collect garbage and, once filled, drop them off at designated stations for weekly pick-up by Austin Resource Recovery. The pilot began on July 8 and is expected to last through mid-August.

But at the heart of this project, you’ll find more than trash bags. Did you know that as of 2018, there are over 2,000 people experiencing homelessness in Austin? That means more than 2,000 people do not have stable housing or access to the citywide services that housed residents often take for granted, including garbage collection. That’s a lot of people without access to an essential and basic service that helps with day-to-day life.

Imagine not having a place to discard your everyday waste. This simple daily act of throwing something away is a privilege most rarely think twice about, and a legitimate concern for the homeless community. Providing trash bags and collection services to these communities could foster the sense of pride that comes with being able to clean up your home (or area you reside in), while reducing the amount of trash build-up in the city at the same time.

After weeks of trying it out, it seems to be working.

“A lot of them [individuals experiencing homelessness] are going above and beyond in cleaning up these areas.” Taylor Cook, Program Manager for the City of Austin Service Design Lab and project lead, stated. “They’re collecting stuff that’s not even their trash because they want these spaces as clean as possible.”

Cook says she has seen a lot of positive response to this project from participants. “The homeless community is full of hardcore environmentalists because they see the impact of excess trash firsthand,” she said. “They want to participate in the program because they’re very close to this matter, but don’t have access to a lot of solutions.” Who would have thought an act as small as providing a way to keep our underpasses clean could help to uplift a community of people experiencing such hardship? Let’s hope this Violet Bag Program is here to stay.

If you have questions, concerns or ideas about the Violet Bag Program, please e-mail the Service Design Lab.