Over 2,000 violet-colored trash bags have been handed out to homeless people as part of a pilot program to help keep Austin clean.
The Violet Bag trash collection program provides bags and drop-off sites close to encampments with a high volume of trash-related complaints.
People experiencing homelessness have been encouraged to fill the trash bags and drop them off at designated sites for weekly pick-up by Austin Resource Recovery. Collection sites include informational signs explaining what is approved for collection.
The first phase of the program, which began in July and lasted seven weeks, was tested in four areas:
- Ohlen Road and Highway 183 in North Austin
- Cameron Road and Highway 183 in North East Austin
- Cesar Chavez and Interstate 35 in Central Austin
- Packsaddle Pass and Highway 71 in South Austin.
The pilot added an additional site at Pleasant Valley Rd. and Cesar Chavez St. in East Austin for the second phase of the pilot, which will continue through the end of October. This will provide information about sites with different geographic characteristics using the same Austin Resource Recovery carts that are distributed to homes. This phase will help project participants understand trash collection requirements at a wider variety of sites and inform recommendations for future expansions.
“The act of throwing away trash and having access to citywide trash services is something that most housed residents don’t think twice about, and often take for granted,” said Taylor Cook, Program Manager for the City of Austin Service Design Lab and project lead. “We’ve seen a lot of support from individuals in these encampments that want to keep their areas clean, but simply don’t have access to solutions. This program provides those experiencing homelessness a consistent, legal solution to disposing of trash.”
“The City’s priority continues to be moving those experiencing homelessness into stable housing,” said Lori Pampilo Harris, Austin’s Homeless Strategy Officer. “The Violet Bag program is just one piece of the city’s larger efforts to connect homeless individuals with services that provide dignity, social support and smooth transitions into permanent homes.”
One homeless participant, who resides at Cameron Road and Highway 183, said: “You guys are the reason we can keep our spot clean. Last week I picked up 20 bags. I do it little by little.”
Another, at East Cesar Chavez and I35, said: “As long as I know someone is picking up [the violet bags] there will be stuff there to be picked up. It makes it clean. We all benefit.”
The program is a collaboration between a number of City of Austin departments including Watershed Protection, the Office of Design and Delivery, Austin Resource Recovery, Public Works, Parks and Recreation, and Austin 3-1-1, and supported by the Integral Care PATH team.
Collections sites were selected based on the volume of trash-related complaints made to the city. During the first phase of the pilot, two of the sites distributed bags via kiosks while the others relied on outreach workers to distribute the bags weekly. As part of the pilot’s second phase, violet bag kiosks are being added to the remaining sites.
Over 2,000 violet-colored bags were distributed during the first phase of the program, ranging in size from 12 to 16 gallons. The second phase of the project is testing larger trash bags and working to modify trash collection methods to allow Austin Resource Recovery to use semi-automated trucks for collection, as opposed to collecting trash bags by hand.
When the pilot ends at the end of the month, the program will be re-evaluated and recommendations will be made about expanding the program city-wide.