road to zero waste

The truth about plastic bags

Published 3 May 2022

Plastic bag blowing in wind with Austin skyline

By: Keri Greenwalt

There has been a lot of talk about plastic bags since Austin’s ordinance was overturned this past summer. With so much chatter it can be difficult to figure out the facts. Let’s sort it out so we can stop the myths from blowing around like a stray plastic bag in the wind.

Myth: The City of Austin no longer cares whether I bring my own reusable bags when I shop or if I opt for single-use bags.

Fact: Austin’s Single-Use Bag Ordinance (SUBO) took effect in March 2013. The ordinance regulated the types of bags that could be distributed by businesses in Austin and encouraged a shift to reusable bags. After the Texas Supreme Court ruled that a similar bag ban in Laredo violated state law, Austin lost its ability to enforce the ordinance.

While the ordinance can no longer be enforced, the City is still very committed to its Zero Waste goal. Austin Resource Recovery continues its efforts to reduce the use of these bags and other single-use disposable items. We encourage everyone to continue to bring their own reusable bags every time they shop. Austinites Ron Oliveira, Ali Khan and Tammie Williamson still bring their reusable bags. Use #IStillBringIt on social media to share your story about why you still bring it.

Myth: Local retailers must now offer free single-use bags at checkout.

Fact: There was never a local or state law requiring retailers to provide free bags at checkout. Doing so is up to the discretion of the retailer, and retailers can opt to charge for bags or refrain from providing them at all if they so choose.

Myth: I can recycle single-use plastic bags in my blue cart.

Fact: While single-use plastic film items like shopping bags and plastic wrap (basically plastic that is stretchy) can be recycled, these items should never be placed in your blue cart because they get tangled in the sorting machines at the Material Recovery Facility that processes the City’s recycling. Instead, you can recycle these items by dropping them off at the City’s Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center or at many locations throughout the Austin area.

Rigid plastics that keep their shape can be placed in your blue cart and recycled curbside, while soft plastics that do not stretch (like snack wrappers) should be discarded in the trash cart. When in doubt, our handy sorting guide can help you figure out what goes where.

Myth: It doesn’t matter if I opt for single-use bags every time I shop since the plastic film can just be recycled anyway.

Fact: While it is true that plastic film can be recycled, it is always best to reduce and reuse what you can first so there is less of this material in existence in the first place. Bags constructed from canvas and other durable materials can be reused many times and reduce the need for plastic bags in the first place. Read more about the environmental effects of the single-use plastic bag in Austin in this report released by ARR in 2015.

Myth: I’m only one person, so my efforts to help reduce single-use plastic bags won’t make a difference now that the ordinance is no longer being enforced.

Fact: Each person can make a difference when it comes to Zero Waste. Every time you reduce, reuse and recycle you are preventing materials from going to the landfill. Continue to encourage your friends and family to do the same, and spread the word through social media with #IStillBringIt to rally others to join you in this effort. You can also share your thoughts on plastic bags with us by completing this survey by March 8.

Montopolis Park: Brownfield to Butterfly

Published 3 May 2022

A rendering of upcoming improvements to Monotopolis Park

By: Susanne Harm

A cornerstone of East Austin for more than four decades, Montopolis Park will soon experience a metamorphosis. The timeworn recreation building will undergo a transformation into the new, full-fledged Montopolis Recreation and Community Center. It’s already a charming place for nearby residents to recreate, celebrate and meet their neighbors, but after long-planned renovations are complete, this 6.4 acre park will evolve into a crown jewel of Austin’s Eastside. 

Before work could safely begin on the new Montopolis Park project, testing of existing buildings, surrounding land and ground water needed to be conducted by experts at Austin Brownfields Revitalization Office. The Brownfields team learned of an historic gas station near the park so they completed Environmental Site Assessments (ESA) which luckily indicated no harmful toxins in the soil or groundwater. The team also tested for asbestos and lead-based paint at the Recreation Center to ensure worker safety during demolition and renovation. 

Whenever a current property has a history of being near a past business using chemicals or other potentially harmful substances (think gas stations, dry cleaners or chemical plants) there is a risk that some of the toxins are still lingering in the buildings, land or even underground water. These potentially contaminated locations are referred to as brownfields and that’s where the City’s Brownfields team steps in to ensure the safety of future park visitors, employees and construction workers during demolition and renovation. 

Once brownfield cleanups and further testing are completed, renovation efforts will begin on more than 33,000 square feet of new space, including a commercial kitchen, multisport gymnasium, fitness room, track, teen space, computer lab, conference rooms, and educational programming areas.

Funding for the whole endeavor comes from the Parks and Recreation Department, Health Department and the Brownfields Revitalization Office. The Brownfields Revitalization Office receives grants from the Environmental Protection Agency to provide free ESAs and low-cost cleanup loans for properties which may have contamination. 

Estimated to be open to the public beginning spring of 2020, the multiple new amenities at the Montolpolis Recreation and Community Center will add boundless opportunities for all Austin residents.


Coffee—hold the plastic: Easy single-use plastic swaps

Published 3 May 2022

Man holding a single-use coffee cup and giving "thumbs down"

By: Valerie Vines & Ashley Pace

On our current path, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, so something’s got to change. Austin is taking the next step, but this time, we are taking our commitment global. Along with over 350 businesses, organizations and governments, Austin has joined the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment with the goal of eliminating unnecessary plastic.

A key goal of the New Plastics Economy is to move from single-use to reusable models, keeping materials in use and out of the environment. With this in mind, we are using Earth Month to take a hard look at single-use plastics and how we can reduce the amount we use in our everyday lives by opting for easy, reusable swaps.

To-go drinks

Reducing your plastic use doesn’t have to mean limiting your coffee consumption, but it does mean giving up single-use coffee cups. Most disposable coffee cups are made with a plastic-based coating that holds liquid and insulates the cup, which means it can’t be recycled or composted. Instead, opt to bring your own travel mug or cup to get your daily fix. Many coffee shops even offer discounts to customers who bring their own cups. And while you are slurping down your favorite beverage, don’t forget to refuse a straw or bring your own reusable or compostable one.


Water fill stations are becoming more popular with employers, schools, airports and retailers, making it easy to fill your own water bottle or cup wherever you go. Glass, metal, with a straw, without a straw— there are so many options for how to carry around your H2O that it’s become a personalized fashion accessory.

Food storage

Avoid single-use plastics like zip-top bags or plastic wrap for storing leftovers. Instead, invest in washable snack bags, compostable wraps and reusable storage containers or repurpose empty jam or pickle jars. Beeswax paper is a space-saving alternative for plastic wrap that can be rinsed and reused over 100 times before it loses its shape and needs to be composted.

Shopping Bags

Refusing single-use plastic bags from local retailers and choosing to bring your own reusable bags is a great way to eliminate unnecessary plastic in your life. Whether you are at a drugstore, clothing store, or doing your weekly grocery run, remember to bring your bags every time.

Produce bags

Bring reusable produce bags or avoid bagging your fruits and vegetables altogether. Most of the produce available at the store has its own natural skin and doesn’t really need extra plastic to get it from the store to your home. You are probably going to wash your produce anyways! If you do feel the need for some extra germ protection, make sure to use a cloth or nylon bag that you can wash and use over and over again.

The City of Austin is committed to reducing single-use plastic waste, but we cannot do it without the support and commitment of our residents. As with any kind of change, it takes time to train yourself to refuse single-use plastics and remember your reusable alternatives, but soon you’ll be toting along your bags, bottles and cups without thinking twice about it. Now it’s your turn. During the month of April, show us how you are making changes in your everyday life to reduce the amount of plastic you use and share your progress with us by using #adaywithoutplastic.


Skip the clutter this Father’s Day: thoughtful Zero Waste gifts Dad will love

Published 3 May 2022

Father and son in golf cart

By: Keri Greenwalt

Father’s Day is just around the corner and Dad deserves a gift that honors him, without creating extra clutter. If he’s not in need of another mug, pair of socks or tie, here are some Zero Waste ideas both Dad and the planet will love.

Spend quality time together

Focus on what your Dad enjoys the most and make arrangements to spend the day together doing something he loves. Concert tickets, a round of golf, a nice dinner, kayak rentals or a night of bowling make great gifts and can create memories you will both cherish for years to come. Keep in mind that you don’t have to break the bank either. A fun-filled day of hiking, relaxing by the lake or exploring one of Austin’s many parks are also great cost-free options.

Learn something new together

Is there a new skill or hobby your Dad has always been interested in but has never quite found the time to get started? Sign the two of you up for that photography class he’s been meaning to take, try your hand at piano lessons or attend a woodworking class. The two of you could also learn how to fix something he already has that is broken by attending a free Fix-it Clinic (there are two taking place on Father’s Day weekend).   Making time to do something he’s wanted to do shows that you put extra thought into your gift and you’re spending time together in the process.

Give the gift of labor

Does your Dad have unfinished projects lingering around the yard, garage or house? Maybe he’s been meaning to stain the deck, clean out the garage, do some additional landscaping or repaint the shed. Take the initiative to complete some of these projects on your own, or offer to do them together.

Keep these tips in mind while you are working on those projects:

  • Use our What do I do with…? tool to help determine Zero Waste options for getting rid of items Dad no longer wants.
  • The Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center offers free materials that can help you get the job done. Pick up mulch to complete that landscaping or paint for the shed (available in three shades) at no charge. 

Thoughtful Zero Waste gifts are a great way to show Dad your appreciation for all he does.

Serve up your Thanksgiving feast, sustainably

Published 3 May 2022

Plate with cloth napkin and silverware

By: Bailey Grimmett

Thanksgiving brings together family, friends and communities. It also brings with it a lot of hungry guests, food and place settings. If you are scrambling to find reusable dishware for your holiday hosting, there’s a new service in town that’s here to help.

The Austin Dish Lending Library is a new, local service that provides Austin area residents with reusable alternatives to single-use dishes and utensils. What does that mean? Well, it’s exactly like a library, but instead of books, it’s bowls. With the Dish Lending Library, people can temporarily borrow plates, bowls, cups, silverware and other dishware for an upcoming event, whether it be an office party or at-home Thanksgiving celebration. Not only does using the library save you money (it’s free!), but it also helps keep single-use plastics out of the landfill.

The woman behind the Austin Dish Lending Library is Joanna Tychowski, a local resident with a vision for Austin’s zero waste future. Based on her own experience trying to find reusable dishware for an event, and not wanting to resort to single-use plastics, Joanna was inspired to start the Dish Lending Library this past year, with a goal of encouraging sustainable practices by local residents.

While the library is only a few months old (founded August 2019), it’s starting to get the attention it deserves. “It’s slowly growing,” says Tychowski. “We expect the upcoming holiday months to be a busier period since a lot of food consumption happens during this time.”

Joanna hasn’t been surprised by the high level of participation. “Many Austinites are aware of the City’s zero waste goals, and they use the Dish Lending Library as a way to contribute to that goal.” She’s hopeful that more people will learn about and use the service so that it can expand, and serve even more residents throughout the area.

“My vision is to have several Dish Lending Library branches located in Austin neighborhoods. This will encourage more participation and ensure faster and easier delivery of materials to the customer.”

If you’re hosting a holiday feast (or just an everyday dinner or event), consider utilizing the Austin Dish Lending Library. The process is simple: visit the Dish Lending Library website and submit a borrow request form. From there, you’ll coordinate the drop-off and pick-up details with Joanna, who will work with your schedule and location, and that’s it! You’re ready to serve up some sustenance, sustainably.  

Tip: Before placing your dishware order with the Austin Dish Lending Library, estimate the amount of food you’ll be preparing and serving by using Save the Food’s “Guest-imator.” This food calculator will estimate just how much food you need for an event/party based on size, hunger (how many guests prefer small portions or large portions), food spread and more. Get even more tips for a zero waste holiday in last year’s Thanksgiving blog. Let’s reduce the amount of waste traditionally generated from a hearty Thanksgiving feast and move Austin one step closer to its zero waste goal.

Happy Thanksgiving from Austin Resource Recovery.

Circular Innovators: Classic Childhood upcycles men’s dress shirts into European-style clothing for infants

Published 3 May 2022

By: Thomas Nguyen

Did you know?

It takes 5,300 gallons of water to make one pair of jeans and a t-shirt. That’s the equivalent of how much fuel it takes to fly a Boeing 737 from Austin to the heart of the Amazon Rainforest!

Welcome back to our Circular Innovators series. In this series, we’ll be highlighting Austin businesses that are embracing the circular economy; reducing waste and creating value for their customers and the planet.

Classic Childhood owner Pamela Torres  shows an infant romper she made out of a men's dress shirt

We’re glad to welcome Classic Childhood to the stage, a generational-leap towards inspiring our children to benefit from circular principles. Classic Childhood is an online retail store that specializes in upcycling old shirts into European-style clothing for infants. They are tackling the problem of fast fashion that has taken over the clothing industry.

Fast Fashion 101

The fashion industry is forecasted to reach a value of $2 trillion in 2022, an increase of more than 30% since 2017. This may sound great for the overall health of the economy, but current fashion production practices are detrimental to our environment and communities. In order to meet consumer supply and demand, designers produce thousands of styles every quarter to stay competitive. Many companies will mass produce these styles and, if a style is not successful, the garments will end up being thrown into the world’s landfills. To put it into perspective, textile waste produces over 10 million tons of material that is sent to to landfills each year, in the United States alone.

Characteristics of Fast Fashion:

  • Products have a shorter life span
  • Uses social pressure to get consumers to buy new and “fit in”
  • Unethical treatment of garment workers
  • Byproduct from the manufacturing process pollutes resources such as water, land and air

Taking the initiative to start a slow fashion trend, Classic Childhood is stitching together circularity and cuteness.

Classic Childhood & the Heirloom Collection

Open for business since 2018, Classic Childhood is an online retailer specializing in European-style children’s clothes, with a sustainable line of upcycled items. Business owner Pamela Torres was inspired by her husband and newborn son.

Coming up with the idea to use her husband’s gently-used dress shirts, she began creating prototypes for what is now Classic Childhood’s Heirloom Collection of sustainable products. In a way, Pamela innovated the cradle-to-cradle design business model into a husband-to-cradle model.

Classic Childhood owner Pamela Torres  shows an infant romper she made out of a men's dress shirt

“Revising the way we look at trash isn’t always easy, but when you find the solution it’s a no-brainer!” Pamela said.

Pamela sources her upcycled dress shirts from donations, and through local textile recycler JOSCO Products.

After connecting to textile manufacturer Stitch Texas through the City’s [Re]Verse Pitch Competition and learning about their textile waste challenges, Classic Childhood introduced a new line of pillows using Stitch’s remnant bamboo fabric scraps as pillow filling.

As Pamela notes, “It isn’t just about zero waste, it is about preserving the future.”

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

Published 3 May 2022

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.

Circular Innovators: Miranda Bennett Studio creates Zero Waste fashion with nature as a model

Published 3 May 2022

By: Thomas Nguyen

Did you know?

The average textile dye used for clothing is made up of 8,000 synthetic chemicals and after the dyeing process, many factories and mills will dump the excess into water streams.

Welcome back to our Circular Innovators series. In this series, we’ll be highlighting Austin businesses that are embracing the circular economy; reducing waste and creating value for their customers and the planet.

What is Biomimicry?

What is biomimicry? If we break it down, bio = life; mimicry = imitate. Thus, biomimicry is using inspiration from nature to help solve human challenges. Examples of biomimicry include swimsuits that feel and act like shark skin to swim faster; Japanese speed trains modeled after a Kingfisher bird's thin, long beak to reduce noise and power usage; and edible packaging that resembles fruit and vegetable skin. Nature makes the most of limited resources. Think of plants during a drought or birds building nests; everything gets used, without creating 'waste.' The natural world has many lessons to teach, and one local fashion business has been taking notes.

The Start of Miranda Bennett Studio

Clothing on display on the sales floor at Miranda Bennett Studio

Founded by Miranda Bennett nearly 12 years ago, Miranda Bennett Studio (MBS) is a modern boutique designing a collection of plant-dyed apparel. From a young age, Miranda was interested in textiles; she created dresses for her dolls and developed her own style of clothing as a teen. While studying design in New York, she was exposed to unconventional approaches to fashion that brought about disruptive innovation (think upcycling vintage). Using this principle as her college thesis, she started her own handmade clothing collection that would be the start of MBS. Her style of free-flowing and environmental consciousness brings together an ethical and sustainable design.

Miranda Bennett Studio’s Inspiration

With nature as a driving force behind her design inspirations, Miranda has developed her business model around the theme of her social campaign: #thefutureiscircular.

MBS partners with Open Arms, a textile manufacturer empowering the lives of refugees through training and fair-wage employment. MBS also provides community outreach events to educate the general public about the benefits of creating a zero waste lifestyle, upholding their morals and beliefs towards a circular economy.

Instead of using harsh chemicals to dye their products, the studio uses natural, plant-based dyes, including some dyes created from existing waste streams such as avocado pits and milled wood scraps.

The company continuously looks for new ways to go Zero Waste—they recently tested using Chitosan, made from crab shells, to treat the fabric before dyeing.

Scraps of fabric are arranged by color

“We should all view waste as an asset rather than a liability”—Miranda Bennett, CEO

The MBS Zero Waste initiative was also created as a multi-faceted approach to divert every scrap of textile remnants from landfills. MBS uses fabric scraps from their garment production to create their Zero Waste line which includes children’s dresses, small drawstring bags, pillows, and scrunchies. Their rebate program allows customers to return their purchase in exchange for a 20% off coupon allowing the item to be donated, recycled or repurposed.

MBS’ desire to be an ethical and environmentally responsible company pushes them to innovate, always looking for a new efficiency, a new way to support their community, or new ways to turn waste into something beautiful. 

DRAWing towards Zero Waste: local program keeps art supplies out of the landfill

Published 3 May 2022

By: Andy Dawson and Bailey Grimmett

If you haven’t heard, there’s a colorful way to reuse in Austin. The Diverting Resources for Artistic Works program (DRAW) is an Austin Resource Recovery service aimed at reusing and extending the lives of art supplies such as acrylic paints, canvases, brushes and related items. Located at the Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center (RRDOC), and as an expansion of the center’s ReUse Store, DRAW is a resource aimed at offering barely-used art supplies to local residents in creative need.

The RRDOC collects all kinds of materials, including art supplies, to be disposed of properly. However, back in 2011, RRDOC employees found that many of the art supplies being dropped off were still in good condition and had a lot of “life” left in them. To keep from sending these usable items to the landfill, the DRAW program was created. Each week, employees go through the items that have been dropped off and determine if they can be reused; if so, they are set aside for the general public to pick up. On its eighth year, this small but impactful program has kept around 8,000 pounds of materials out of the landfill each year.

But don’t take our word for it. Thao Phan, a local art teacher who educates students on topics ranging from introduction to art to advanced sculpture and ceramics, heard about DRAW last year and has been using the service for classroom (and personal) projects ever since. “DRAW is an awesome program!” Phan recently stated. “I can find classroom materials, craft supplies, paints and glazes for all kinds of projects.”

Students admire three floral looking three-dimensional art pieces hanging on a wall in a stairway.

These bright and blooming wall hanging pieces were created by Phan and her students using plastics, wood and paint, courtesy of DRAW.

Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that Thao not only considers DRAW a great resource for her and her students, but a resource with a mission behind it that’s close to her heart, “I love how DRAW supports local artists, educators and the community!”

Everyone (especially local artists and teachers like Thao) is encouraged to take advantage of this reuse resource. Visit the Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center, located at 2514 Business Center Dr., Austin, TX 78744, Monday through Friday during operating hours. Availability of supplies varies.

Out with the old, in with the new: where should old electronics go?

Published 3 May 2022

pile of electronics to be recycled.

By: Andy Dawson

Each year, Americans throw away 9.4 million tons of electronics! Much of that waste turns up during, and immediately following, the holiday season. Out with the old, in with the new, right?

Electronics don’t seem to last long these days, especially when a new phone with a better camera and newer technology is released every six months. The EPA estimates that 350,000 phones are thrown out each day! Old electronics don’t belong in the trash can. If not disposed of properly, these items can be dangerous. Many contain lithium batteries, which are fragile and can start fires when tossed around in a trash or recycling truck. In addition, most electronics contain toxic chemicals which can seep into our groundwater if placed in the landfill. So, what are the reuse and disposal options for these items?

In Austin, the Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center accepts most kinds of electronics for recycling. In addition to mobile phones, vacuum cleaners, microwaves, battery backups, televisions and even clothes washers and dryers are accepted here, six days a week, free of charge to Austin residents. More than 539 tons of electronics were collected and recycled at the Drop-off Center in 2019.

Remember, the best practice in the name of Zero Waste is always to use the item for as long as you can. If it’s still in working order but no longer of use to you, donate it. If it doesn't work, drop it off to be recycled.