By: Nolan Fleming
The Holidays are in full swing. Along with all the joy and merriment, they can also bring a lot of extra waste! In fact, the United States generates 25 percent more waste during the holiday season. Here are some ways you can put a freeze on the issue and spread some eco-friendly cheer.
Think back on the Holidays last year and the gifts you received. How many of those gifts do you actually use to this day? The gifts that stand out to me have always been experiences or a story to share with friends and family. This year, consider giving the gift of a great story that the recipient can tell for years to come. Plan a local adventure or take a woodworking class together, repair a well-worn favorite sweater or find a gift with its own unique history at an antique store.
Unfortunately, wrapping paper that has foil or glitter, photo paper and ribbon are not recyclable. Instead, try wrapping your gifts with newspaper, posters, maps, fabric or reuseable gift bags to add a personal touch and avoid the non-recyclables.
Now that you have wrapped all these gifts in eco-friendly, reusable materials, it’s time to ship them with that same level of environmental care. Reuse cardboard boxes and other shipping materials. Rather than buying packing peanuts or bubble wrap, try using balled-up, recyclable paper.
Planning to send out holiday cards? Instead of using traditional paper and glitter-embossed cards, try sending out Ecards! They are paperless, interactive and easy to distribute. Plus you save on postage! Repurpose any cards you receive to make gift tags, gift boxes or place settings for holiday meals.
Hosting a holiday feast
When it comes to meals, many of us rely on disposable tableware for the uncharacteristically large number of people that we will be serving. Take the extra time to find reusable dishware by borrowing from a family member or friend, or by visiting your local thrift store. You can also reach out to the Austin Dish Lending Library, a new, local service that loans reusable dishes and silverware to Austin area residents at no cost.
Use these tips to make a difference this holiday season by reducing your waste, and your spending. You may even gift yourself a little extra time by not spending it in a crowded department store or post office.
By: Keri Greenwalt
(Updated November 9, 2022)
There has been a lot of talk about composting and how much material it can keep out of landfills, which is great for the environment and the City’s goal to reach Zero Waste by 2040. But how much work does it take to compost and what kind of set up is needed? The truth is, composting doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, there are many composting options right here in Austin, so you can decide what works best for you and your household.
Let someone else do the composting for you
By now, many Austinites are aware of the City’s Curbside Composting program and its numerous benefits. This service allows you to toss the appropriate items into the cart and set it at the curb on your collection day. Then the City handles the rest.
The program is currently available to all of Austin Resource Recovery’s (ARR) curbside customers, about 210,000 homes.
Drop off material to be composted
In Austin, organic material can be dropped off for free (in most cases) at farmers markets or community gardens to be transformed into compost. Be sure to follow the guidelines provided for each facility to ensure your material will be accepted.
Get your hands dirty and compost yourself
Compost directly in your house plants or garden
If you want to compost but it seems overwhelming, start out by making one small change and then expand from there. Did you know that coffee grounds can easily be composted by just adding them into the soil in your house plants or garden? Coffee grounds are a quick, easy way to add nutrients and organic matter to your soil, and your plants will love it.
Create compost in your backyard
Select a designated area of your backyard for home composting, where you can create a compost pile or store a compost bin or tumbler. Creating your own compost is easier than you think and the City offers free resources to help you get started.
Create compost right in your apartment or on your patio
Do you live in an apartment or have limited space in your backyard? No problem. You can still create your own compost with a Bokashi, which takes up little space, is 10 times faster than other composting methods (typically completing the entire process in only seven to 14 days) and can be utilized year-round. Or set up a vermicomposting system that utilizes worms to break the material down.
Let chickens do the composting
Ready to take on some zero waste backyard pets? Did you know keeping chickens is a great way to keep your food waste out of the landfill? The average chicken eats about seven pounds of food per month. Feeding food scraps to chickens can keep a significant amount of material out of the landfill each year. Chickens provide other benefits as well. They produce eggs, and can provide natural insect control. In addition, chicken droppings can be mixed with yard waste to create compost. Try your hand at chicken keeping.
By: Bailey Grimmett
America Recycles Day is a day to pat ourselves on the back for how far we’ve come in recycling efforts, both nationally and locally. But did you know 20 percent of Austin’s recycling is contaminated? Contamination occurs when we put non-recyclable materials or garbage into our recycling carts, which can cause major issues later on at the recycling facility. One of the largest contaminants? “Tanglers.”
Tanglers are items such as plastic bags, trash bags, garden hoses, clothing, rope and other flexible items that can cause problems during the recycling process.
Imagine a large recycling sorting facility (where the items from your blue recycling cart end up). This facility has several large machines that are made up of a series of gears and cogs moving at high speeds, sorting through the materials. When plastic bags, garden hoses, ropes and other tanglers end up in this sorting process, they get wrapped around the gears and cogs of the machine. This leads to delays and even standstills in operations, as employees must now shut down the machinery in order to remove the items. It’s a tangled mess.
You can make a difference. This America Recycles Day, Austin Resource Recovery asks Austinites to Untangle ATX by keeping tanglers out of their blue recycling carts. If you see an item that is made of flexible, stretchy or long material, take a second to ask, “Could this material/item get wrapped around the gears of a machine?” If the answer is yes, don’t put it in your blue recycling cart.
Keep these tanglers out of the blue recycling cart:
Plastic bags, trash bags, plastic film & wrap
What do I do with it?
Some local retailers and stores accept these items for recycling— check our What Do I Do With tool to find a location near you.
What do I do with it?
Visit the Austin Reuse Directory to find a local organization that will accept these items for reuse or recycling, or place in your trash cart.
Strings of lights & electrical cords
What do I do with it?
Drop these items off at the Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center to be recycled or disposed of safely.
Clothing & Textiles
What do I do with it?
What do I do with it?
Visit the Austin Reuse Directory to find a local organization that will accept these items for reuse.
By Ashley Pace
We’ve made it through another trip around the sun, and now it’s time to think about what we can do in the next year to help live a more Zero Waste lifestyle. Here are some habits you can start today that can make a big impact in 2019.
Refuse what you won’t use
Simply put, if you are offered something, take a moment to think realistically about its value to you. Do you really need another koozie, pen, keychain or notebook from a random event or business? Do you even like the scent of that lotion sample? How many of those paper face masks do you really need? Choosing to refuse items that you won’t use can add up to a big heap of things that usually end up in the trash. And, for those unwanted items you already have in the house, check out the Austin Reuse Directory for local business that will put that unwanted stuff to good use.
Recycle the “hard to recycle” items
This year, commit to actually recycling the pile of used batteries, stash of plastic bags and mountain of styrofoam you’ve been collecting in your garage. These items can’t go into your blue recycling cart, but they can be recycled if you take them where they need to go. Used batteries can be taken to any Austin Public Library branch for collection, plastic bags are collected at most grocery stores, and styrofoam and just about all of the other hard to recycle items can be dropped off at our Recycle & Reuse Drop-Off Center. It might not be as convenient as the blue cart, but you can feel good about taking the extra time to ensure these items are recycled. To check if an item can go into your blue cart or if it needs special recycling use our What Do I Do With tool.
Make an “Eat this first” basket
Commit to eating the fresh produce, dairy and eggs that you already have before grabbing the snacks with a longer shelf life. Make an “eat this first” drawer or basket to make sure your healthy and fresh options are easy to see and grab without having to dig around. Not only will you reduce food waste, but maybe your waistline too. If you do have food in your house that is no longer fit for human consumption, consider taking advantage of the City’s rebate programs for starting a home composting system or chicken keeping.
Make 2019 the year to commit to Zero Waste in your life. Even if you start with just one extra step, it can go a long way. And don’t forget to share your Zero Waste success stories with your family, friends and social groups to help encourage them to make their own small steps too.
By: Ashley Pace
Everyone likes a good fright for Halloween, but there is nothing scarier than piles of garbage taking over our streets! Instead of buying cheap one-time use items to spook up your celebration, use these tips to help you reduce, reuse and recycle items for a more Zero Waste Halloween.
- Most store-bought Halloween costumes are made of cheap polyester materials and are thrown away after being worn one time. Instead of going for the easy grab at the party store, consider a costume swap with friends or get creative with clothing that you already own and will wear again after Halloween night is over. If you do choose to buy something new, try searching for previously owned items on E-bay or use the Austin ReUse Directory to find local thrift stores near you.
- Instead of buying cheap holiday decor, get inspired by nature! Gather leaves and grass clippings to stuff clothes for a scarecrow or fill glass jars with acorns to make beautiful centerpieces. You can also buy pumpkins, gourds and dried corn for your decor and eat or compost them after you no longer need them for decoration. If you don’t have your own composting system and you don’t get the City’s Curbside Composting service, check your local farmer’s market to see if they accept donated organic materials for composting.
- Help to reduce the number of non-recyclable candy wrappers by opting to purchase boxed candy to give to your trick-or-treaters instead. Most candy wrappers are made of a combination of paper and plastic and cannot be recycled. Instead, encourage your family and friends to go with treats in boxes that can be composted or recycled.
By: Ashley Pace
Mother’s Day provides us with the opportunity to reflect on everything our incredible mothers bring to our lives. This year, as you decide how you will honor and thank them, take the extra time to give her an eco-conscious gift she will love and feel good about.
The gift of time
Think about what she would like to spend her day doing. Pack a picnic full of her favorite foods and head to a quiet spot, spend the day volunteering together for a cause she cares about, or rent her dream car for the day and explore the hill country. Maybe what she really wants is some alone time. Sign her up for lessons; sewing, cooking, martial arts or whatever she is in to.
Get crafty together
Homemade gifts are always the best because of the time and love that goes into making them. Repurpose thrift store finds like vintage teacups to make bird feeders or planters, picture frames that you can paint or add buttons or beads to, or one-of-a-kind furniture that you can refinish. Plan to do these things together and make a day of it, or do it ahead of time and present it to your mom on Mother’s Day. If you are in need of inspiration and crafting supplies, make sure you check out Austin Creative Reuse for discount supplies.
Repair what is already loved
Having kids can take its toll on your home and your beloved items. Instead of buying something new, think about what she already loves and feels like she may have lost. Surprise her by having that broken bracelet, worn-down pair of heels, discolored photograph or favorite piece of furniture repaired, restored and looking like new again!
Whatever you choose to do, make sure you are putting extra thought into your gifts. Experiences, reuse activities or repairing beloved items are all great ways to say how much you care both for her, and for our mother earth.
By Natalie Betts
In the Zero Waste world, we often talk about used items that are about to be tossed into a bin. Making sure that as many of these items as possible go into a bin other than a trash can, so they can be recycled or composted instead, is critical to Zero Waste.
But what can we do to keep fewer items from being tossed out? What if everything around us was designed to be adapted, repaired, or reused? That’s the vision of the circular economy—an economic system where products are kept circulating in productive use at their highest value for as long as possible. It’s a system where products are designed to be repurposed at the end of their first useful life.
A transition to the circular economy could make a major positive impact on our economic prosperity—one study estimated that creating a circular economy in Europe would add €0.9 trillion (approximately $1.04 trillion) to its GDP. It also matters for the environment. If fewer items have to be manufactured, then the pollution and carbon emissions caused by that manufacturing are avoided altogether.
Take clothing, for example: Clothing in the landfill adds up over time, yet it’s not the biggest contributor to waste by weight. The problem lies in the manufacturing of new clothing; it is hugely impactful to the environment—it takes 2,700 liters of water to make one cotton shirt. That’s enough water for one person to drink for 2.5 years! The greenhouse gases generated by one year of polyester production is equivalent to the annual emissions of 185 coal plants.
Buying a used shirt not only keeps something out of the landfill, it also means that one less new shirt needs to be manufactured.
So how can you help? The circular economy is such a big idea, and so much can seem out of our hands. But every person can make choices that will have a real impact.
In fact, you probably already do lot of circular activities without thinking about it, whether it’s reusing a water bottle or repurposing today’s butter tub to hold tomorrow’s leftovers. Here are some more tips for making Austin more circular:
- Think: Can it be fixed? It’s so tempting to throw away or recycle something when it breaks and just get a new one, but by fixing it yourself, you save all the emissions that it would have taken to manufacture, transport, and sell its replacement. That’s huge! The library offers repair information, or you can attend one of ARR’s Fix-It Clinics.
- Opt for reusables: Metal straws, rechargeable batteries, reusable razors, cloth napkins—there are many opportunities to swap out a disposable item for one that can be used again and again.
- Look for durability: Before you make a purchase, ask yourself how long that item will last. The longer you can keep something and the more uses you can get out of it, the better.
- Shop thrift: There are so many great second-hand stores in Austin. ARR helps maintain a list of locally-owned ones in our Shop Zero Waste directory at austintexas.gov/shopzero. You can discover unique items and save some cash at the same time.
- Borrow or rent: If you only need something a few times a year or on special occasions, see if you can borrow it from a neighbor or rent it from a local business instead of having it gather dust in a closet most of the year.
- Innovate: Do you have an entrepreneurial spirit? Then Austin needs your help to repurpose and reuse some of the valuable materials that are currently being discarded by other local businesses. The [Re]Verse Pitch Competition is about to kick off its fourth year and everyone is welcome to compete to create the best business idea that repurposes bike tires, wine skins, plastic sheets, and other interesting materials that need reuse solutions. Join us on February 26 to get started.
Still confused about the circular economy? This video from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation can give you more insight.
When people think about Austin, thoughts of real cowboys (and cowgirls), giant longhorns, tasty tacos, life-changing barbeque and amazing live music spring to mind - Ah! Yes, the music! Austin is widely considered the live music capital of the world. It's no wonder more than 400,000 people flock to Austin for festivals such as SXSW — generating over 1.5 million pounds of trash and recycling each year.
How then does Austin transform each night from festival-goer mecca to business as usual the following morning? No — it's not an act of magic that helps keep Austin clean, it's the crews at Austin Resource Recovery working around the clock.
Austin Resource Recovery crews work roughly 23 hours per day during the spring festival season. You can often see ARR crews out and about emptying the 400 permanent and 250 temporary trash and recycling containers. Once the dust settles and the crowds clear, the real magic happens. Litter abatement crews take to the streets nightly in an orchestral array of ATV's, street sweeping trucks and boots-on-the-ground to clear over 230,000 pounds of trash.
"Let's say a semi-automated trash truck that goes house to house, that's about 800 to 1,000 houses that they do a day," Says Michael Womack, supervisor of an ARR litter abatement crew. "During SXSW, they will have to clear that much trash in roughly three hours"Source
It's a veritable race to the finish before the day begins anew and sees the arrival of the early morning joggers, dog walkers, construction workers and the like. And festivals are only growing larger and larger each year.
So, what can you do to help? The usual suspects at these events are cardboard, paper fliers, paper plates, aluminum cans, plastic cups and plastic and glass bottles. Most of these items are strewn about the streets and crammed into trash bins. When discarding waste, use the correct recycling and landfill trash containers.
Reducing and reusing also go a long way. Bring refillable bottles for water, pack your own snacks like fruits or veggies and using re-sealable containers for leftover food are great for reducing the number of items that are created and ultimately disposed of. You can even ask food vendors to use your own container when ordering food! Ultimately, getting familiar with what will be provided by an event or what is not allowed will cut down on the amount of thrown out items and may just help save money! Save green by going green — who doesn't love that?
Last, but certainly not least, when you see our crews going to and fro, working ever-so diligently to keep Austin beautiful, give them a high-five and thank you. See Y'all next year!
Thank you to the incredible men and women of Austin Resource Recovery for their great service not only this week but also every day.
It's DIY Time! — We love this easy DIY because not only can you create a reusable bag but it keeps unwanted t-shirts out of landfills.
Items needed: t-shirt and scissors
1) Lay out your shirt on a flat surface.
2) Starting with the shoulders, carefully cut the sleeves off your t-shirt
3) Cut off the neck collar of your t-shirt to make a large opening for your bag.
4) Cut slits into the bottom of the t-shirt through both layers. Make sure the slits allow for the t-shirt ends to tie.
5) Tie each slit together
6) All done! Enjoy your new bag!
By: Alexandra Mascareno
Have a seat at your favorite restaurant and what do you see? Silverware enveloped in neatly folded linens, a tiny centerpiece with fresh flowers, cute dinner plates and ice cold water. You take a sip and…wait, something’s missing! You take another sip and think about what it could be when finally, it hits you — your straw is missing. More and more these tiny pieces of plastic are disappearing from restaurants around the world.
So, what’s the deal with straws? Well for one, their short usage lifespan may not be worth the strain on the environment. Straws decompose at a rate of 200 years. Meaning it could take upwards of two (really healthy) human lifespans for the Earth to naturally break down a tiny item you use to drink soda. Multiply that by the billions used worldwide each year and you can begin to see how we have a problem to solve.
Drinking tubes have existed for over 7,000 years and across many civilizations. The drinking straw as we know was created only a few decades ago when plastic replaced paper as the material of choice to make these utensils.
The modern drinking straw is made entirely from polypropylene (fancy-speak for plastic) and never truly biodegrades. Instead, plastic straws break down into ever-shrinking pieces until they eventually become ‘microplastics’. These microplastics can make their way into oceans and are ingested by fish and other marine life. According to the 2018 Ocean Conservancy International Coastal Cleanup Report, the total amount of plastic entering the ocean from land is about 8 million metric tons per year, and in 2017 straws were among the top ten plastic items collected globally.
|Image Credit: The Last Plastic Straw|
OK, so how do straws get into the oceans in the first place? Well, disposing of straws can be extremely difficult. When thrown into landfill trash, they are so small and airy that they likely won’t survive the trip. Instead, they often end up in storm drains that connect bodies of water, like oceans. For the same reason, they cannot reliably be recycled in your blue cart.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Austin is nowhere near the ocean!” — That’s definitely true, but we do have some beautiful lakes that face the same problems. According to a 2017 study commissioned by Texans for Clean Water, city staff and volunteers pull an average of 250 tons of trash from Lady Bird Lake a year. The majority of which washes in from streets, parking lots and storm drains. Whatever doesn’t end up in our water ends up on our roads. In Texas, more than 70% of roadside trash is microlitter, including straws.
What can you do to help? Well, simply not using single-use plastic straws is a great start! Unless you need to use straws due to a physical condition, we bet you won’t even miss them. If you just can’t seem to live without them, then consider reusable straws made from stainless steel or, for the avocado lovers out there, look for completely biodegradable straws made out of avocado pits. How cool is that?
There are many options out there that could help our planet become a cleaner and safer place for both animals and people alike. Reduce your use of items that see mere minutes of use but have impacts that could last centuries.
So, the next time you are handed a straw at your favorite restaurant, kindly decline or opt to bring along your own reusable straw.