Oct 13, 2021 - 11:57 am CDT

Jack-o-lanterns, gourds and paper orange and black halloween decor

By: Keri Greenwalt

Many people love Halloween, and getting festive can add to the fun, but it doesn’t need to add to the landfill, or subtract from your wallet. There are ways to spook up your space without creating waste, or unnecessary spending. Here are some ideas to help you decorate with natural items, rather than synthetic ones. Many of these items can even be left up right through Thanksgiving:

Pumpkins and gourds

Pumpkins and gourds are always a good choice for Fall decor. Carve jack-o-lanterns or simply leave them in tact and use them to jazz up your home, both inside and outdoors. Small groups of tiny pumpkins and gourds look great on both a mantle and a doorstep.

If you decide to carve some spooky designs, don’t toss the insides. Use the pumpkin to make a tasty pie or other pumpkin spice dessert. Clean the seeds, add seasoning and bake for a savory zero waste snack.

Do your carving on top of a few sheets of newspaper for easy cleanup. Simply roll the whole thing up and toss it in your green composting cart when you’re done.

When you no longer need the pumpkins and gourds you can simply compost them in your green cart. If they’re not moldy, and you keep chickens, they would love it. Pumpkins are a healthy source of vitamins, minerals, protein and calcium for chickens and they go crazy over them. Just break the pumpkin in half so the chickens can get in there. The National Wildlife Federation also has some additional tips on how to feed pumpkins to animals, if you are in search of more ideas.

Hay bales and corn stalks

Use other natural decorations like hay bales or dried corn stalks to add some flare to your space. These items can instantly spruce up your home for Halloween and Thanksgiving, alike.

Use hay to stuff a hat and some old clothes to craft a scarecrow.

When you’re done, hay and corn stalks can be donated to a farm as snacks and bedding for horses, chickens or other animals. Use hay as mulch in a garden. You can also compost these items in your green cart. Just be sure everything fits in the cart with the lid closed. Old clothing can be donated or recycled through the City’s Clothing and Housewares Curbside Collection Program.

Dried leaves and sticks

A bundle of thin sticks can double as a witch's broom. You can also use dried leaves as decorations. Scatter them with pumpkins and gourds on your mantle or select a few pretty ones to add to your table’s centerpiece.

Leaves can actually be good for your lawn, too. When you are done, simply place the leaves back on your lawn and mulch them with your lawnmower as you mow the lawn. Remember not to rake or blow leaves or grass into the streets. This is prohibited by City ordinance. Instead, if you choose to remove them, place leaves in your green composting cart or in lawn and leaf bags and set out with your weekly curbside composting collection.


Halloween decor made out of reused items: ghost made out of a bed sheet, paper bats, etc.

Use stuff you already have

Take items you already have and give them a new life as spooky décor.

  • Repurpose sheets and old T-shirts to create ghosts.
  • Black nylons and wire hangers can be crafted into spooky bats.
  • Use construction paper or other paper to cut out the shapes of bats, pumpkins and ghouls to decorate the inside of your home. Recycle them when you’re done.
  • A simple Internet search will turn up a whole slew of kids’ craft ideas you can complete with empty toilet paper rolls. Make the creepiest Frankenstein, bats, ghosts witches and goblins.
  • Use any shipping boxes that were delivered to your door to create creepy tombstones, pumpkins and witches. Just cut them into shapes and add paint or marker. Recycle them when your festivities are over.
  • Forgo the plastic pumpkin bucket and repurpose a pillowcase as a trick-or-treating bag. You can even decorate it with fabric paints or permanent markers to make it go with your costume.

Oct 11, 2021 - 02:24 pm CDT

Man repairs a broken vacuum

By: Erica Alves 

Your living room is a space for relaxation and recreation, so it’s natural to want your items to work properly and look clean. The key is regular maintenance and repair of your everyday things. Not only does it cause less stress in the long run, it also teaches you new skills and can become a rewarding hobby. The more you see things go from old to new as a result of your work, the more rewarding it can feel. 

Before trying the tips below, start with the basics:

  1. If the appliance is electric, check your outlet by using a receptacle tester or simply plug your appliance into a different outlet. 
  2. See if your owner’s manual has troubleshooting tips. If you can’t find the owner’s manual, many are available with a quick online search. If these basics do not work, try the following repair and maintenance tips.   

Plug-in fans 

If your electric fan stopped spinning or is spinning slower than usual, lubricating and cleaning might solve your problem. Start by turning off and unplugging your fan. Then, disassemble your fan (this varies by machine so check your owner’s manual for this step). It can be helpful to take a picture before disassembly, so you remember where each piece and part goes for reassembly.  

Once you remove the guard and the blades, clean the area behind it. This usually includes a pin and the bearings. The most common fan “cloggers” are dust and hair, so go outside or open a window for proper ventilation. Use small scissors to cut the hairs and a rag or compressed air to clean the dust. Next, clean and dust the blades and guard.  

Grab a lubricant and locate the bearings and pin again. If possible, make your fan face the ceiling, so the pin looks vertical rather than horizontal. Put a drop or two of lubricant right above the pin. As it runs down, spin the pin to get the lubricant in the bearings. Then, simply reattach the blades and guard.  

Coffee Table 

Wooden coffee tables often get water damage from cups. Coasters are a great way to prevent stains, but if you already have white or light-colored marks, it’s an easy fix. It’s recommended to spot test each of these techniques before applying to a larger area. 

Grab an oily furniture polish, antique oil or finishing oil. If you don’t have this type of oil, try stirring an equally small amount of vinegar and olive oil in a bowl. Apply a small amount of the oil or polish to the damaged area. Then, use steel wool to rub it in. You can also use a cloth to apply the mixture if you do not have steel wool. As you rub it in, make sure to follow the direction of the wood grain. Clean off the excess oil with a damp cloth.  

Another option is to squeeze a pea-size amount of regular toothpaste on a wet cloth and gently rub it in the area until the stain disappears. Wipe off any excess with a damp cloth. If the stain remains, mix a bit of the toothpaste with an equal amount of baking soda and try again.  

To finish it off, apply some wax to the wood for protection. A thin layer of wax paste works best. Allow it to dry thoroughly for about 30 minutes.  

Vacuums 

Regular maintenance can help keep your vacuum working longer. When cleaning your vacuum, you will likely be dealing with dirt and dust, so go outside or stay in a well-ventilated area while working on it. You may also want to wear a face mask and rubber gloves for extra protection.  

Start by making sure your vacuum is turned off and unplugged. If your vacuum has a floor brush, start by cleaning this part first. To remove the brush, you may need a screwdriver or you may be able to slide it off by gently twisting and pulling. Check your owner’s manual for instructions specific to your machine. Use scissors to cut off any hairs or strings that may be wrapped around the brush. Get rid of the remaining dust and lint by shaking over a trash bin. If you still have dirt stuck to the brush, clean it with warm water and a mild detergent. Let it dry completely, then reattach. If your vacuum uses a beater bar, the same treatment can be performed with it.  

If your vacuum uses a bag and suddenly stops working, try replacing the bag. Many machines won't turn on if the bag is full. If it smells bad but isn’t full yet, try pouring a little vanilla extract on a paper towel. Then, cut it up into small pieces and vacuum it. 

If your upright vacuum cleaner stops working, empty out the dust canister. Machines with hoses often stop working when there are blockages in the tubes. Many hoses detach by unscrewing, but it is best to check your owner’s manual to see how your vacuum works. If you find any blockages, use a broomstick to carefully force them out and then reattach. Some vacuums also have additional filters, check the owner’s manual to find where those may be located, and be sure to remove any dust accumulation there as well. 


Want more repair tips? Check out our other repair blogs, including kitchen repair and general repair. Watch clips from our previous Fix-It classes and sign up for the Fix-It newsletter to find out when the next workshops will take place. If you need professional assistance, your item is broken beyond repair or you need to get rid of something, check out the Austin Reuse Directory, which is re-launching later this fall. 

Sep 08, 2021 - 05:05 pm CDT

composting dumpster

By: Noelle Bugaj

This year has been big for composting in the City of Austin. This past spring, Austin Resource Recovery (ARR) finalized the rollout of curbside composting collection to all single-family homes that receive their services. Starting with a pilot of 14,000 homes in 2010, this has been no small feat. Simultaneous with the celebrations and hoorays, the City is focused on taking the next steps towards our zero waste goals as ARR rolls out the Community Composting Collection Pilot for multifamily properties.  

Community Composting Collection Pilot   

Initially planned for March of 2020, the Community Composting Collection Pilot had to pause and pivot along with everyone else with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the unexpected winter freeze in February 2021, when it was planned to resume. However, ARR was determined to roll out the pilot program and began to onboard the participating multifamily communities in May of 2021, on a rolling basis. Now, in September 2021, all eight participating communities have rolled out services to their residents. 

Over a six-month period, each of these communities will participate in a composting or organics collection program of their choosing, provide feedback to the City, and help to inform future policy discussions for multifamily communities. This pilot will allow the City to better understand the unique challenges faced by residents, haulers, staff and property managers through real-world experience.      

Why is multifamily composting important? 

Single-family residences are just one of many housing types in our community. Multifamily communities include apartments, condos, dormitories, co-ops, assisted living facilities, mobile home parks, home owners associations (HOAs) with private waste services and more. Generally, any community with five units or more is considered multifamily. Though multifamily communities in Austin are not serviced directly by ARR, the City does have a role to play in supporting opportunities for all residents to divert food waste from our landfills. The waste materials generated at these communities are equally as important as any waste generated by single-family homes and commercial businesses in our city.  A 2015 City of Austin commercial and multifamily landfill composition study found that 37% of waste materials in the landfill were compostable. Residents, businesses and the City of Austin must work together to reach our zero waste goal by 2040.  

What can I do to support multifamily composting right now? 

If you want to be involved in helping to move multifamily composting forward in our community, there are a few steps you can take right now. 

Start a multifamily composting program

The City of Austin offers a Zero Waste Business Rebate that includes an option for new composting or organics collection programs at multifamily communities. The rebate covers up to $1800 to start a program.  

Become a Zero Waste Block Leader

Block Leaders are engaged Austin residents who are passionate about sustainability. They offer their time and knowledge, sharing information with their friends, family and neighbors about recycling, composting, repurposing, repairing and zero waste. Sign up to become a Zero Waste Block Leader. 

Collect organics for drop off

Just because a multifamily community may not have a composting collection program, doesn’t mean that compostable waste must end up in the landfill. There are several ways you could start diverting your food waste materials right now:

  • Drop off your food waste at a local farmers market, community garden or a compost facility. Compost Coalition has a map of possible drop-off locations.
  • Try composting at home. A vermicomposting bin or an indoor compost digester are two compost methods that work for small spaces and don’t require a yard.
  • Share a friend's green curbside compost cart. Ask if you can drop off your food waste with a friend who has Austin Resource Recovery’s curbside service. 

Keep an eye out for future updates related to multifamily composting in the City of Austin!  

Sep 08, 2021 - 04:09 pm CDT

By: Amy Moosman

September is National Preparedness Month. Are you disaster ready? Austin Resource Recovery (ARR) can provide information and resources to help you:  

  • Dispose of your used and old emergency kit batteries 

  • Remove flammable materials from the vicinity of your home 

  • Remove expired pesticides, old cleaning chemicals and oils from inside your home 


Batteries in a bucket to be recycled

 

First, emergency kits help protect you and your family. Keep one anywhere you might get stranded during an emergency. Include enough food, water and medical supplies for your needs to last for at least 72 hours. Don’t forget to include batteries and chargers! That is where ARR can help. 

Replace old, used batteries with new ones to charge your devices through an emergency. Don’t throw old batteries in the trash. Instead, schedule an appointment to drop them off to be recycled at the Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center (RRDOC). Or, take them to any location that accepts used batteries.  


Large brush being collected

Second, check to see that your home and the property around it is clear of materials that catch fire easily. Clean roofs and gutters of dead leaves and debris that could catch embers. Move materials away from outside walls, like mulch, flammable plants, leaves and needles, firewood piles. 

ARR customers can place leaves and yard trimmings in their green composting cart. Extra material can be set out in kraft paper bags or in a small reusable container (no more than 33 gallons).  

Customers also receive twice-per-year curbside collection of large brush. Use the My Schedule tool to find your next scheduled pick-up. Missed your last curbside collection of brush or have material you need to recycle now? Austin and Travis County residents can drop off brush at the Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Plant


Old paint

Finally, September is also a great time to dispose of other old household hazardous materials you no longer need. Things like pesticides, cleaners or oils can be taken by appointment to the RRDOC.  


Make sure ARR is part of your disaster preparation. Together, we can be ready for the next emergency. 

Sep 08, 2021 - 03:35 pm CDT

broken dishwasher

By: Erica Alves

Repair is a fun hobby that can boost your confidence and help the environment all at once. When a kitchen appliance stops working, it’s often a headache to buy a new one or find someone who can fix it. You likely want a fast and cheap fix in order to keep cooking, baking and cleaning as usual. We have easy and quick tips to help keep your kitchen appliances in good shape. Not only will it challenge you to learn new skills; it will also feel good to know that you made something broken new again.

Dishwashers

Simple cleaning can solve many of the most common problems in dishwashers, such as the dishes coming out dirty. If you haven’t cleaned the appliance in some time, try locating the filter and the spray arm to get started.

On standard dishwashers, the filter is usually a removable cylinder located at the bottom of the machine. To avoid clogs and preserve your dishwasher, you should clean it once a month with a sponge, old rag or even an old toothbrush.

The spray arm is also located near the filter at the bottom. Make sure it’s spinning properly and then unscrew it by turning it clockwise. Lift it up and look for any debris. To clean the main part, use an old toothbrush. To clean out small holes, use a wire. 

Check your owner’s manual to determine how to properly remove these two pieces, as it may vary. Lost the manual? Try searching for it online.

Toasters

If you have trouble getting your toaster to work, or smell something burning when it’s on, it may need cleaning, as many toasters may stop working because small pieces of food get stuck.

The first step is to unplug your toaster and let it cool. Then, look inside for pieces of food that may have fallen to the bottom and are jamming the carriage lever. Hold your toaster over a compost bin to see if the bread and crumbs will naturally fall out. If they’re stuck, use a thin wooden or rubber utensil such as a spatula to gently poke the pieces of food out. You can also use compressed air to blow out the food. You’ll know it’s clean when the lever moves up and down smoothly. Some toaster models have a large crumb tray at the bottom that may slide out or unlatch. Clean this tray out once a week by removing it and shaking the crumbs into your compost bin.

If these tips don’t work, check on the outlets with a receptacle tester or plug your toaster into a different outlet.

Blenders

Overloading your blender can damage the blade and wear out the motor. Be sure to cut up your food into chunks small enough to fit at the bottom part of your blender. If you have to blend hard foods, try using a food processor instead of a blender. Blenders are generally made for softer foods and liquids, so hard foods, such as potatoes or ginger root, may damage them.

If the blade isn’t turning as well as usual, try tightening the drive stud. First, unplug the appliance. Then, remove the base and put the blender on its side. Locate the driveshaft and grip it with pliers or a wrench. Turn the stud clockwise until it is no longer loose. If you see that the drive stud’s corners are rounded, you may have to replace it. Simply loosen and remove the worn one by reversing the instructions above and then install the new one by tightening it. If your blade won’t spin at all, you can try cleaning it thoroughly. Carefully detach the blade and soak it in soapy warm water. Use an old toothbrush to scrub it and then rinse. Let it dry completely, then test the blender again.


Regular cleaning is the key to keeping your appliances working for as long as possible. Schedule some time for these simple tasks as often as you can, especially if you use the appliance on a daily basis. When you run into issues, try the tips above or search online for more repair tips before giving up and buying something new. If you treat your appliances as an investment and take care of them, they should return the favor.

Aug 12, 2021 - 04:03 pm CDT

Circular Austin Showcase: Connect. Pitch. Impact.

By: Bailey Grimmett

Just last week, Austin Resource Recovery and the Economic Development Department hosted the City’s first Circular Austin Showcase, an online pitch event focused on circularity and the environmental efforts of local businesses. We brought 10 “circular” businesses and/or entrepreneurs to a virtual stage for a one-night pitch event to showcase their businesses and ideas. Circular businesses make products (or offer services) in ways that reduce waste, support a greener and healthier city, and contribute to Austin’s zero waste goal. 

For example, during the event, we heard from a company pitching baby bow ties made out of unwanted fabric samples and another pitching beverage coasters made out of spent grain from a local distillery. Very different products, with very similar zero waste goals. 

During each pitch, a panel of judges listened in, took notes and scored the contestants based on a variety of criteria including business viability, fundability, waste and economic impact, local job creation, and pitch delivery. After hearing 10 companies pitch, only one was selected as the winner and recipient of a $3,000 cash prize. You can watch the pitches here. And the winner is... 

Locoal 

Locoal pitched a new sustainable product known as “wattle socks” (patent pending), made out of spent grain from a local distillery. The end product, or “wattle sock,” helps capture toxins from storm-water runoff and prevents water erosion. By successfully keeping valuable and reusable materials out of the landfill and putting them to better and higher use, Locoal is a circular company with big plans to reduce waste and help the environment in more ways than one.  

"Growing up in Austin, I've watched as the community has stepped up and participated in the cleaning and greening of our city.  There is a great network of caring and true action, which is a breath of fresh air, pun intended!” said Matthew “Petey” Peterson, Locoal founder. “However, it's going to take more support from the community with the help of the City of Austin, and the Circular Austin Showcase was a fantastic way to raise awareness for real impact while also providing educational and financial support for startup businesses." 

Inventors Matthew “Petey” Peterson and Seth Nyer of Locoal will receive a $3,000 cash prize and a year of bragging rights as winners of the first Circular Austin Showcase.  

Congratulations to Locoal and the nine other companies that pitched in the Circular Austin Showcase.  


The Circular Austin Showcase is a new program created by the City of Austin’s Circular Economy Program, which launched [RE]verse Pitch in 2015, providing more than $70,000 in cash and in-kind prizes to date. The Circular Austin Showcase is focused on connecting local investors and circular economy entrepreneurs and business owners. It aims to help Austin reduce waste, create a cleaner environment and grow the local circular economy.   

Aug 12, 2021 - 11:43 am CDT

Reusable bento box filled with food

By: Alyssa Armstrong

Shopping for the school year usually involves purchasing clothes, school supplies and lunch box necessities. While your kids' homemade meals are made with love (and sometimes the crust cut off), packing their lunch box often includes single-use plastic bags, disposable silverware, wax-coated juice boxes and other hard-to-recycle items that end up in the landfill. Not to worry, there are many easy ways to make lunches with love... and with love for the environment too.

School lunch made in a bento box with different sections

Box it up

Try a reusable bento box. These multi-compartment meal boxes originated in Japan and are a great way to store your kiddos' snacks and treats without single-use zip-top bags. As a bonus, the compartment dividers keep different foods from touching one another, so it's sure to satisfy even the pickiest of eaters. Bento boxes are easy to rinse and reuse, and many are even dishwasher safe.

Reusable bags

Switch to reusable snack bags

If letting go of your trusty zip-top snack bags sounds like too much to bear, consider switching to reusable snack bags. The fun designs and colors will entice your kids during recess and ease your eco-conscious mind.

Reusable beeswax food wrap with food

Wrap up your use of single-use wraps

Bee Earth-friendly and substitute plastic wrap and aluminum foil with beeswax wrap. Wrap up that turkey on white or use it to cover the top of a lidless snack container to keep everything in place. Hand wash in cold water with an alcohol-free soap and use it over and over again.

Reusable straws , utensils and water bottle

Try out these simple swaps

There are other simple swaps you can make. Opt for reusable silverware, straws, water bottles and a dedicated lunch box or bag instead of a paper or plastic grocery bag. Try cloth napkins; you could even make your own from scrap fabric. 

Food in bulk

Buy in bulk

Finally, when buying snacks, try purchasing in bulk and portioning out instead of purchasing single-serving snacks that often come wrapped in single-use bags or wrappers. Plus buying in bulk usually saves you money.

Enjoy the new school year and your zero waste lunch!

Jul 19, 2021 - 10:17 am CDT

Circular Austin Showcase: Connect. Pitch. Impact.

By: Bailey Grimmett

Austin Resource Recovery is hosting its first Circular Austin Showcase on Wednesday, July 28, 6–7 p.m. The virtual event is a chance for local businesses to pitch their zero waste business ideas to a group of investors and judges. By giving these businesses a (virtual) stage, we’re helping Austin reduce waste and stay on track to reach its zero waste goal by 2040. But you may be asking, "how?"...

Each business coming to the Circular Austin Showcase is what’s known as a ‘circular business.’ Hence, the name of the event. A circular business is one that designs out or reduces waste. At the end of the day, they keep valuable resources out of the landfill and support a zero waste city. Here are a few examples of how a business can be circular:

  • A company that uses recycled or reused materials within their business is circular because this practice of using secondhand materials removes the need for new, raw materials.
  • A business that creates durable products is circular because their products are meant to last and can be used for years without the fear of it wearing down prematurely. This is known as product life extension.
  • A repair shop is circular because its services keep things working after they break.
  • A rental company is circular because it gives people access to a product or service they need without making a one-time purchase.

If you want to know more about what a circular business is, take a look at our previous blog or check out the circular interactive map of local Austin businesses with information on how they’re practicing circularity.

Austin is home to many circular businesses, and that number is expected to grow over the years. Hear from ten local circular businesses that are leading that effort today, and join us at the Circular Austin Showcase on July 28. The Circular Austin Showcase is a free, virtual event. Register to attend or learn more. We hope to see you there!

Jul 15, 2021 - 11:36 am CDT

Empty plastic water bottles in a pile

By Bailey Grimmett,

Three years ago, City of Austin Mayor Steve Adler signed the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, a commitment to address plastic waste (problematic for many reasons) by creating a circular economy for plastics. What does that mean? It means rethinking how we produce, use and reuse plastic so that it never becomes waste in the first place. 

Fast forward to 2020, when the City of Austin took another step towards a circular economy for plastics by joining the new U.S. Plastics Pact. This pact brought together brands, retailers, government agencies and non-governmental organizations from across the US to establish four goals to reach by 2025 (that’s only four years):  

  1. Create and define a list of problematic and/or unnecessary packaging and take measures to eliminate them by 2025. Think about the last time you went to a grocery or retail store and bought something that had plastic packaging; Was that plastic packaging or wrapping really necessary? Or was there a better, more sustainable way to offer that product in the store? 

  2. All plastic packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.  

  3. Take steps to recycle or compost 50% of plastic packaging by 2025. Based on a 2017 report by the Ellen McArthur Foundation, only 14% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling globally; 36% to go! 

  4. By 2025, the average recycled content or responsibly sourced bio-based content in plastic packaging will be 30%. If we think of what makes up plastic packaging as a whole pie, we want 30% of that pie to be made of recycled stuff. Or stuff that is made responsibly (like bio-based content). 

To follow through on its plastics commitment, the City of Austin has outlined several steps it will take to prevent plastic waste by 2025. It will: 

  1. Develop internal policies to limit purchasing problematic or unnecessary plastics and educate staff on these policies. 
  2. Offer consulting services to businesses that want to become ‘circular’ and establish reuse models within their organization. 
  3. Support research and development of new reusable, recyclable or compostable plastic packaging. 
  4. Learn how much plastic Austin collects for recycling citywide (the “capture rate”) and set a target rate for 2025. 
  5. Set a target to replace plastics that are 100% made of things pulled from the planet (“virgin materials”) with 30% recycled content (not “virgin”). Also, join the Government Recycling Demand Champions Program. 
  6. Add education on plastic pollution to the City of Austin’s Generation Zero program (for kids in grades K-12), increase education about where to drop off plastic film for recycling (hint: The City’s Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center accepts plastic film; schedule a time to drop off your plastic film.)  and measure the impact of both of these education efforts. 

The City of Austin is proud to be a part of the US Plastics Pact and help rethink “plastic” by 2025. Check out the US Plastics Pact new Roadmap to 2025 online tool to see where we’re headed. 

Jun 07, 2021 - 03:45 pm CDT

Toaster with a Post-it note that says "broken"

By: Erica Alves 

Repair is easier than you may think! With just a few basic tools and step-by-step instructions, you can fix almost any small appliance in your home. Repairing things such as vacuums, toasters, lamps, fans and coffee makers can be an exciting and challenging hobby too. When you see your broken item come back to life, the feeling you get is so rewarding that you’ll want to do it again and again.  

What are some of the benefits of repair? Borrowing tools to repair or creating your own repair kit can be cheaper than buying a replacement item, which saves you money. By extending the life of your broken item by repair, you’re also helping the environment by eliminating the resources it takes to create a new one. So, before throwing away a broken item and buying new, consider fixing it yourself. 

Here are some tips to get started on repairing: 

Check your outlet

If your appliance or other electronic item stops working, there may be an issue with your outlet. Before giving up on it, always try other outlets around your home. The issue could be a bad connection or a tripped circuit breaker. You can also use a receptacle tester, a tool that instantly tells you if the problem is the wiring. 

Search for guides online  

A quick search can lead you to existing manuals, troubleshooting guides or how-to videos to help you identify the issue and fix it yourself. Try checking the Open Repair Alliance or resources from the library to get started. If you’re hoping to repair an older appliance, chances are it already has a manual. Type the model name and year into a search engine and see what you can find.  

Acquire a few basic tools over time 

Most basic repair requires a similar range of tools, such as screwdrivers, pliers, superglue, needle and thread, and/or Allen keys. Having these in your home, or knowing which neighbor owns them (and shares), can come in handy when something unexpectedly breaks.  

Keep up with maintenance

Regular cleaning and maintenance is important for everyday things, as it prevents problems associated with dust, grease or rust build-up. Use an emory board to remove rust, old t-shirts or microfiber cloths to remove dust or grease, and an old toothbrush to remove build-up in tight spaces. (Safety first: when dealing with an item that plugs in, always unplug it before cleaning.) 


Following these simple steps can help both the Earth and your wallet. To learn more about repair, check out our Fix-It At Home! online repair workshop series by watching our past workshops and signing up for the Circular Economy Program newsletter to be notified when more classes become available. 

Oct 11, 2021 - 02:24 pm CDT

Man repairs a broken vacuum

By: Erica Alves 

Your living room is a space for relaxation and recreation, so it’s natural to want your items to work properly and look clean. The key is regular maintenance and repair of your everyday things. Not only does it cause less stress in the long run, it also teaches you new skills and can become a rewarding hobby. The more you see things go from old to new as a result of your work, the more rewarding it can feel. 

Before trying the tips below, start with the basics:

  1. If the appliance is electric, check your outlet by using a receptacle tester or simply plug your appliance into a different outlet. 
  2. See if your owner’s manual has troubleshooting tips. If you can’t find the owner’s manual, many are available with a quick online search. If these basics do not work, try the following repair and maintenance tips.   

Plug-in fans 

If your electric fan stopped spinning or is spinning slower than usual, lubricating and cleaning might solve your problem. Start by turning off and unplugging your fan. Then, disassemble your fan (this varies by machine so check your owner’s manual for this step). It can be helpful to take a picture before disassembly, so you remember where each piece and part goes for reassembly.  

Once you remove the guard and the blades, clean the area behind it. This usually includes a pin and the bearings. The most common fan “cloggers” are dust and hair, so go outside or open a window for proper ventilation. Use small scissors to cut the hairs and a rag or compressed air to clean the dust. Next, clean and dust the blades and guard.  

Grab a lubricant and locate the bearings and pin again. If possible, make your fan face the ceiling, so the pin looks vertical rather than horizontal. Put a drop or two of lubricant right above the pin. As it runs down, spin the pin to get the lubricant in the bearings. Then, simply reattach the blades and guard.  

Coffee Table 

Wooden coffee tables often get water damage from cups. Coasters are a great way to prevent stains, but if you already have white or light-colored marks, it’s an easy fix. It’s recommended to spot test each of these techniques before applying to a larger area. 

Grab an oily furniture polish, antique oil or finishing oil. If you don’t have this type of oil, try stirring an equally small amount of vinegar and olive oil in a bowl. Apply a small amount of the oil or polish to the damaged area. Then, use steel wool to rub it in. You can also use a cloth to apply the mixture if you do not have steel wool. As you rub it in, make sure to follow the direction of the wood grain. Clean off the excess oil with a damp cloth.  

Another option is to squeeze a pea-size amount of regular toothpaste on a wet cloth and gently rub it in the area until the stain disappears. Wipe off any excess with a damp cloth. If the stain remains, mix a bit of the toothpaste with an equal amount of baking soda and try again.  

To finish it off, apply some wax to the wood for protection. A thin layer of wax paste works best. Allow it to dry thoroughly for about 30 minutes.  

Vacuums 

Regular maintenance can help keep your vacuum working longer. When cleaning your vacuum, you will likely be dealing with dirt and dust, so go outside or stay in a well-ventilated area while working on it. You may also want to wear a face mask and rubber gloves for extra protection.  

Start by making sure your vacuum is turned off and unplugged. If your vacuum has a floor brush, start by cleaning this part first. To remove the brush, you may need a screwdriver or you may be able to slide it off by gently twisting and pulling. Check your owner’s manual for instructions specific to your machine. Use scissors to cut off any hairs or strings that may be wrapped around the brush. Get rid of the remaining dust and lint by shaking over a trash bin. If you still have dirt stuck to the brush, clean it with warm water and a mild detergent. Let it dry completely, then reattach. If your vacuum uses a beater bar, the same treatment can be performed with it.  

If your vacuum uses a bag and suddenly stops working, try replacing the bag. Many machines won't turn on if the bag is full. If it smells bad but isn’t full yet, try pouring a little vanilla extract on a paper towel. Then, cut it up into small pieces and vacuum it. 

If your upright vacuum cleaner stops working, empty out the dust canister. Machines with hoses often stop working when there are blockages in the tubes. Many hoses detach by unscrewing, but it is best to check your owner’s manual to see how your vacuum works. If you find any blockages, use a broomstick to carefully force them out and then reattach. Some vacuums also have additional filters, check the owner’s manual to find where those may be located, and be sure to remove any dust accumulation there as well. 


Want more repair tips? Check out our other repair blogs, including kitchen repair and general repair. Watch clips from our previous Fix-It classes and sign up for the Fix-It newsletter to find out when the next workshops will take place. If you need professional assistance, your item is broken beyond repair or you need to get rid of something, check out the Austin Reuse Directory, which is re-launching later this fall. 

Road to Zero Waste
Sep 08, 2021 - 05:05 pm CDT

composting dumpster

By: Noelle Bugaj

This year has been big for composting in the City of Austin. This past spring, Austin Resource Recovery (ARR) finalized the rollout of curbside composting collection to all single-family homes that receive their services. Starting with a pilot of 14,000 homes in 2010, this has been no small feat. Simultaneous with the celebrations and hoorays, the City is focused on taking the next steps towards our zero waste goals as ARR rolls out the Community Composting Collection Pilot for multifamily properties.  

Community Composting Collection Pilot   

Initially planned for March of 2020, the Community Composting Collection Pilot had to pause and pivot along with everyone else with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the unexpected winter freeze in February 2021, when it was planned to resume. However, ARR was determined to roll out the pilot program and began to onboard the participating multifamily communities in May of 2021, on a rolling basis. Now, in September 2021, all eight participating communities have rolled out services to their residents. 

Over a six-month period, each of these communities will participate in a composting or organics collection program of their choosing, provide feedback to the City, and help to inform future policy discussions for multifamily communities. This pilot will allow the City to better understand the unique challenges faced by residents, haulers, staff and property managers through real-world experience.      

Why is multifamily composting important? 

Single-family residences are just one of many housing types in our community. Multifamily communities include apartments, condos, dormitories, co-ops, assisted living facilities, mobile home parks, home owners associations (HOAs) with private waste services and more. Generally, any community with five units or more is considered multifamily. Though multifamily communities in Austin are not serviced directly by ARR, the City does have a role to play in supporting opportunities for all residents to divert food waste from our landfills. The waste materials generated at these communities are equally as important as any waste generated by single-family homes and commercial businesses in our city.  A 2015 City of Austin commercial and multifamily landfill composition study found that 37% of waste materials in the landfill were compostable. Residents, businesses and the City of Austin must work together to reach our zero waste goal by 2040.  

What can I do to support multifamily composting right now? 

If you want to be involved in helping to move multifamily composting forward in our community, there are a few steps you can take right now. 

Start a multifamily composting program

The City of Austin offers a Zero Waste Business Rebate that includes an option for new composting or organics collection programs at multifamily communities. The rebate covers up to $1800 to start a program.  

Become a Zero Waste Block Leader

Block Leaders are engaged Austin residents who are passionate about sustainability. They offer their time and knowledge, sharing information with their friends, family and neighbors about recycling, composting, repurposing, repairing and zero waste. Sign up to become a Zero Waste Block Leader. 

Collect organics for drop off

Just because a multifamily community may not have a composting collection program, doesn’t mean that compostable waste must end up in the landfill. There are several ways you could start diverting your food waste materials right now:

  • Drop off your food waste at a local farmers market, community garden or a compost facility. Compost Coalition has a map of possible drop-off locations.
  • Try composting at home. A vermicomposting bin or an indoor compost digester are two compost methods that work for small spaces and don’t require a yard.
  • Share a friend's green curbside compost cart. Ask if you can drop off your food waste with a friend who has Austin Resource Recovery’s curbside service. 

Keep an eye out for future updates related to multifamily composting in the City of Austin!  

Road to Zero Waste
Sep 08, 2021 - 04:09 pm CDT

By: Amy Moosman

September is National Preparedness Month. Are you disaster ready? Austin Resource Recovery (ARR) can provide information and resources to help you:  

  • Dispose of your used and old emergency kit batteries 

  • Remove flammable materials from the vicinity of your home 

  • Remove expired pesticides, old cleaning chemicals and oils from inside your home 


Batteries in a bucket to be recycled

 

First, emergency kits help protect you and your family. Keep one anywhere you might get stranded during an emergency. Include enough food, water and medical supplies for your needs to last for at least 72 hours. Don’t forget to include batteries and chargers! That is where ARR can help. 

Replace old, used batteries with new ones to charge your devices through an emergency. Don’t throw old batteries in the trash. Instead, schedule an appointment to drop them off to be recycled at the Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center (RRDOC). Or, take them to any location that accepts used batteries.  


Large brush being collected

Second, check to see that your home and the property around it is clear of materials that catch fire easily. Clean roofs and gutters of dead leaves and debris that could catch embers. Move materials away from outside walls, like mulch, flammable plants, leaves and needles, firewood piles. 

ARR customers can place leaves and yard trimmings in their green composting cart. Extra material can be set out in kraft paper bags or in a small reusable container (no more than 33 gallons).  

Customers also receive twice-per-year curbside collection of large brush. Use the My Schedule tool to find your next scheduled pick-up. Missed your last curbside collection of brush or have material you need to recycle now? Austin and Travis County residents can drop off brush at the Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Plant


Old paint

Finally, September is also a great time to dispose of other old household hazardous materials you no longer need. Things like pesticides, cleaners or oils can be taken by appointment to the RRDOC.  


Make sure ARR is part of your disaster preparation. Together, we can be ready for the next emergency. 

Road to Zero Waste
Sep 08, 2021 - 03:35 pm CDT

broken dishwasher

By: Erica Alves

Repair is a fun hobby that can boost your confidence and help the environment all at once. When a kitchen appliance stops working, it’s often a headache to buy a new one or find someone who can fix it. You likely want a fast and cheap fix in order to keep cooking, baking and cleaning as usual. We have easy and quick tips to help keep your kitchen appliances in good shape. Not only will it challenge you to learn new skills; it will also feel good to know that you made something broken new again.

Dishwashers

Simple cleaning can solve many of the most common problems in dishwashers, such as the dishes coming out dirty. If you haven’t cleaned the appliance in some time, try locating the filter and the spray arm to get started.

On standard dishwashers, the filter is usually a removable cylinder located at the bottom of the machine. To avoid clogs and preserve your dishwasher, you should clean it once a month with a sponge, old rag or even an old toothbrush.

The spray arm is also located near the filter at the bottom. Make sure it’s spinning properly and then unscrew it by turning it clockwise. Lift it up and look for any debris. To clean the main part, use an old toothbrush. To clean out small holes, use a wire. 

Check your owner’s manual to determine how to properly remove these two pieces, as it may vary. Lost the manual? Try searching for it online.

Toasters

If you have trouble getting your toaster to work, or smell something burning when it’s on, it may need cleaning, as many toasters may stop working because small pieces of food get stuck.

The first step is to unplug your toaster and let it cool. Then, look inside for pieces of food that may have fallen to the bottom and are jamming the carriage lever. Hold your toaster over a compost bin to see if the bread and crumbs will naturally fall out. If they’re stuck, use a thin wooden or rubber utensil such as a spatula to gently poke the pieces of food out. You can also use compressed air to blow out the food. You’ll know it’s clean when the lever moves up and down smoothly. Some toaster models have a large crumb tray at the bottom that may slide out or unlatch. Clean this tray out once a week by removing it and shaking the crumbs into your compost bin.

If these tips don’t work, check on the outlets with a receptacle tester or plug your toaster into a different outlet.

Blenders

Overloading your blender can damage the blade and wear out the motor. Be sure to cut up your food into chunks small enough to fit at the bottom part of your blender. If you have to blend hard foods, try using a food processor instead of a blender. Blenders are generally made for softer foods and liquids, so hard foods, such as potatoes or ginger root, may damage them.

If the blade isn’t turning as well as usual, try tightening the drive stud. First, unplug the appliance. Then, remove the base and put the blender on its side. Locate the driveshaft and grip it with pliers or a wrench. Turn the stud clockwise until it is no longer loose. If you see that the drive stud’s corners are rounded, you may have to replace it. Simply loosen and remove the worn one by reversing the instructions above and then install the new one by tightening it. If your blade won’t spin at all, you can try cleaning it thoroughly. Carefully detach the blade and soak it in soapy warm water. Use an old toothbrush to scrub it and then rinse. Let it dry completely, then test the blender again.


Regular cleaning is the key to keeping your appliances working for as long as possible. Schedule some time for these simple tasks as often as you can, especially if you use the appliance on a daily basis. When you run into issues, try the tips above or search online for more repair tips before giving up and buying something new. If you treat your appliances as an investment and take care of them, they should return the favor.

Road to Zero Waste
Aug 12, 2021 - 04:03 pm CDT

Circular Austin Showcase: Connect. Pitch. Impact.

By: Bailey Grimmett

Just last week, Austin Resource Recovery and the Economic Development Department hosted the City’s first Circular Austin Showcase, an online pitch event focused on circularity and the environmental efforts of local businesses. We brought 10 “circular” businesses and/or entrepreneurs to a virtual stage for a one-night pitch event to showcase their businesses and ideas. Circular businesses make products (or offer services) in ways that reduce waste, support a greener and healthier city, and contribute to Austin’s zero waste goal. 

For example, during the event, we heard from a company pitching baby bow ties made out of unwanted fabric samples and another pitching beverage coasters made out of spent grain from a local distillery. Very different products, with very similar zero waste goals. 

During each pitch, a panel of judges listened in, took notes and scored the contestants based on a variety of criteria including business viability, fundability, waste and economic impact, local job creation, and pitch delivery. After hearing 10 companies pitch, only one was selected as the winner and recipient of a $3,000 cash prize. You can watch the pitches here. And the winner is... 

Locoal 

Locoal pitched a new sustainable product known as “wattle socks” (patent pending), made out of spent grain from a local distillery. The end product, or “wattle sock,” helps capture toxins from storm-water runoff and prevents water erosion. By successfully keeping valuable and reusable materials out of the landfill and putting them to better and higher use, Locoal is a circular company with big plans to reduce waste and help the environment in more ways than one.  

"Growing up in Austin, I've watched as the community has stepped up and participated in the cleaning and greening of our city.  There is a great network of caring and true action, which is a breath of fresh air, pun intended!” said Matthew “Petey” Peterson, Locoal founder. “However, it's going to take more support from the community with the help of the City of Austin, and the Circular Austin Showcase was a fantastic way to raise awareness for real impact while also providing educational and financial support for startup businesses." 

Inventors Matthew “Petey” Peterson and Seth Nyer of Locoal will receive a $3,000 cash prize and a year of bragging rights as winners of the first Circular Austin Showcase.  

Congratulations to Locoal and the nine other companies that pitched in the Circular Austin Showcase.  


The Circular Austin Showcase is a new program created by the City of Austin’s Circular Economy Program, which launched [RE]verse Pitch in 2015, providing more than $70,000 in cash and in-kind prizes to date. The Circular Austin Showcase is focused on connecting local investors and circular economy entrepreneurs and business owners. It aims to help Austin reduce waste, create a cleaner environment and grow the local circular economy.   

Road to Zero Waste
Aug 12, 2021 - 11:43 am CDT

Reusable bento box filled with food

By: Alyssa Armstrong

Shopping for the school year usually involves purchasing clothes, school supplies and lunch box necessities. While your kids' homemade meals are made with love (and sometimes the crust cut off), packing their lunch box often includes single-use plastic bags, disposable silverware, wax-coated juice boxes and other hard-to-recycle items that end up in the landfill. Not to worry, there are many easy ways to make lunches with love... and with love for the environment too.

School lunch made in a bento box with different sections

Box it up

Try a reusable bento box. These multi-compartment meal boxes originated in Japan and are a great way to store your kiddos' snacks and treats without single-use zip-top bags. As a bonus, the compartment dividers keep different foods from touching one another, so it's sure to satisfy even the pickiest of eaters. Bento boxes are easy to rinse and reuse, and many are even dishwasher safe.

Reusable bags

Switch to reusable snack bags

If letting go of your trusty zip-top snack bags sounds like too much to bear, consider switching to reusable snack bags. The fun designs and colors will entice your kids during recess and ease your eco-conscious mind.

Reusable beeswax food wrap with food

Wrap up your use of single-use wraps

Bee Earth-friendly and substitute plastic wrap and aluminum foil with beeswax wrap. Wrap up that turkey on white or use it to cover the top of a lidless snack container to keep everything in place. Hand wash in cold water with an alcohol-free soap and use it over and over again.

Reusable straws , utensils and water bottle

Try out these simple swaps

There are other simple swaps you can make. Opt for reusable silverware, straws, water bottles and a dedicated lunch box or bag instead of a paper or plastic grocery bag. Try cloth napkins; you could even make your own from scrap fabric. 

Food in bulk

Buy in bulk

Finally, when buying snacks, try purchasing in bulk and portioning out instead of purchasing single-serving snacks that often come wrapped in single-use bags or wrappers. Plus buying in bulk usually saves you money.

Enjoy the new school year and your zero waste lunch!

Road to Zero Waste
Jul 19, 2021 - 10:17 am CDT

Circular Austin Showcase: Connect. Pitch. Impact.

By: Bailey Grimmett

Austin Resource Recovery is hosting its first Circular Austin Showcase on Wednesday, July 28, 6–7 p.m. The virtual event is a chance for local businesses to pitch their zero waste business ideas to a group of investors and judges. By giving these businesses a (virtual) stage, we’re helping Austin reduce waste and stay on track to reach its zero waste goal by 2040. But you may be asking, "how?"...

Each business coming to the Circular Austin Showcase is what’s known as a ‘circular business.’ Hence, the name of the event. A circular business is one that designs out or reduces waste. At the end of the day, they keep valuable resources out of the landfill and support a zero waste city. Here are a few examples of how a business can be circular:

  • A company that uses recycled or reused materials within their business is circular because this practice of using secondhand materials removes the need for new, raw materials.
  • A business that creates durable products is circular because their products are meant to last and can be used for years without the fear of it wearing down prematurely. This is known as product life extension.
  • A repair shop is circular because its services keep things working after they break.
  • A rental company is circular because it gives people access to a product or service they need without making a one-time purchase.

If you want to know more about what a circular business is, take a look at our previous blog or check out the circular interactive map of local Austin businesses with information on how they’re practicing circularity.

Austin is home to many circular businesses, and that number is expected to grow over the years. Hear from ten local circular businesses that are leading that effort today, and join us at the Circular Austin Showcase on July 28. The Circular Austin Showcase is a free, virtual event. Register to attend or learn more. We hope to see you there!

Road to Zero Waste
Jul 15, 2021 - 11:36 am CDT

Empty plastic water bottles in a pile

By Bailey Grimmett,

Three years ago, City of Austin Mayor Steve Adler signed the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, a commitment to address plastic waste (problematic for many reasons) by creating a circular economy for plastics. What does that mean? It means rethinking how we produce, use and reuse plastic so that it never becomes waste in the first place. 

Fast forward to 2020, when the City of Austin took another step towards a circular economy for plastics by joining the new U.S. Plastics Pact. This pact brought together brands, retailers, government agencies and non-governmental organizations from across the US to establish four goals to reach by 2025 (that’s only four years):  

  1. Create and define a list of problematic and/or unnecessary packaging and take measures to eliminate them by 2025. Think about the last time you went to a grocery or retail store and bought something that had plastic packaging; Was that plastic packaging or wrapping really necessary? Or was there a better, more sustainable way to offer that product in the store? 

  2. All plastic packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.  

  3. Take steps to recycle or compost 50% of plastic packaging by 2025. Based on a 2017 report by the Ellen McArthur Foundation, only 14% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling globally; 36% to go! 

  4. By 2025, the average recycled content or responsibly sourced bio-based content in plastic packaging will be 30%. If we think of what makes up plastic packaging as a whole pie, we want 30% of that pie to be made of recycled stuff. Or stuff that is made responsibly (like bio-based content). 

To follow through on its plastics commitment, the City of Austin has outlined several steps it will take to prevent plastic waste by 2025. It will: 

  1. Develop internal policies to limit purchasing problematic or unnecessary plastics and educate staff on these policies. 
  2. Offer consulting services to businesses that want to become ‘circular’ and establish reuse models within their organization. 
  3. Support research and development of new reusable, recyclable or compostable plastic packaging. 
  4. Learn how much plastic Austin collects for recycling citywide (the “capture rate”) and set a target rate for 2025. 
  5. Set a target to replace plastics that are 100% made of things pulled from the planet (“virgin materials”) with 30% recycled content (not “virgin”). Also, join the Government Recycling Demand Champions Program. 
  6. Add education on plastic pollution to the City of Austin’s Generation Zero program (for kids in grades K-12), increase education about where to drop off plastic film for recycling (hint: The City’s Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center accepts plastic film; schedule a time to drop off your plastic film.)  and measure the impact of both of these education efforts. 

The City of Austin is proud to be a part of the US Plastics Pact and help rethink “plastic” by 2025. Check out the US Plastics Pact new Roadmap to 2025 online tool to see where we’re headed. 

Road to Zero Waste
Jun 07, 2021 - 03:45 pm CDT

Toaster with a Post-it note that says "broken"

By: Erica Alves 

Repair is easier than you may think! With just a few basic tools and step-by-step instructions, you can fix almost any small appliance in your home. Repairing things such as vacuums, toasters, lamps, fans and coffee makers can be an exciting and challenging hobby too. When you see your broken item come back to life, the feeling you get is so rewarding that you’ll want to do it again and again.  

What are some of the benefits of repair? Borrowing tools to repair or creating your own repair kit can be cheaper than buying a replacement item, which saves you money. By extending the life of your broken item by repair, you’re also helping the environment by eliminating the resources it takes to create a new one. So, before throwing away a broken item and buying new, consider fixing it yourself. 

Here are some tips to get started on repairing: 

Check your outlet

If your appliance or other electronic item stops working, there may be an issue with your outlet. Before giving up on it, always try other outlets around your home. The issue could be a bad connection or a tripped circuit breaker. You can also use a receptacle tester, a tool that instantly tells you if the problem is the wiring. 

Search for guides online  

A quick search can lead you to existing manuals, troubleshooting guides or how-to videos to help you identify the issue and fix it yourself. Try checking the Open Repair Alliance or resources from the library to get started. If you’re hoping to repair an older appliance, chances are it already has a manual. Type the model name and year into a search engine and see what you can find.  

Acquire a few basic tools over time 

Most basic repair requires a similar range of tools, such as screwdrivers, pliers, superglue, needle and thread, and/or Allen keys. Having these in your home, or knowing which neighbor owns them (and shares), can come in handy when something unexpectedly breaks.  

Keep up with maintenance

Regular cleaning and maintenance is important for everyday things, as it prevents problems associated with dust, grease or rust build-up. Use an emory board to remove rust, old t-shirts or microfiber cloths to remove dust or grease, and an old toothbrush to remove build-up in tight spaces. (Safety first: when dealing with an item that plugs in, always unplug it before cleaning.) 


Following these simple steps can help both the Earth and your wallet. To learn more about repair, check out our Fix-It At Home! online repair workshop series by watching our past workshops and signing up for the Circular Economy Program newsletter to be notified when more classes become available. 

Road to Zero Waste