What the City of Austin is doing to reduce plastic waste

In 2018, 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. That 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:  

  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). 

Learn more about how the City of Austin will meet these lofty goals.


What you can do to reduce plastic waste

  • Reduce the amount of single-use and hard-to-recycle (like plastic bags, plastic film or Styrofoam) plastics you use.
  • Reuse the plastic you cannot avoid; give it a second life by reusing what you can.
  • Download the Austin Recycles App or use the What Do I Do With... tool to make sure you are only putting accepted plastics in your blue cart. The things that our processors don’t accept end up going to the landfill.
  • Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook for the latest news on City programs and initiatives to help us reach our zero waste goal.

What happens to your plastic after you put it in the blue cart?

Austin Resource Recovery trucks pick up recycling from over 200,000 homes and take it to a local Material Recovery Facility (MRF) for processing. From there, recyclables go through sorting equipment that groups them by different materials. The bales get sold to other businesses that make them into new products. While other parts of the country may be struggling to process and sell recyclables, Austin’s processors have assured us we are fortunate enough to have steady markets. Here are some real examples from our processors of what Austin’s plastic recyclables get turned into.

  • Plastic water bottles are recycled into other beverage bottles or can be used for polyester in things like clothing, carpet or backpacks. 
  • Milk jugs are recycled into new bottles. 
  • Detergent bottles are recycled into buckets, containers and flower pots. 
  • Shampoo bottles are recycled into flooring.
  • Yogurt containers are recycled into bicycle racks and plant pots.
  • Sunglasses are recycled into plastic lumber and auto parts.