January 06, 2008
Austin wants to eliminate waste

No, we're not talking politics here, but the goal is still very laudable.

The city of Austin is hoping a new plan will help reduce its landfill waste to nothing.

The city has hired a California firm, Gary Liss & Associates, to write a zero-waste plan -- a strategy to reduce to zero the amount of garbage sent to landfills by reusing, recycling and composting materials instead.

Several cities, such as Seattle and San Francisco, and countries either have or are writing zero-waste plans.

The goal of Austin's plan will be to reduce the garbage sent to landfills by 20 percent per capita by 2012 and to achieve zero waste -- an international standard set by the U.N. Environmental Accord -- by 2040.


Austin Solid Waste Services Director Willie Rhodes said that besides the zero-waste plan, the city will also boost recycling with the opening of a single-stream recycling facility in Southeast Austin in the next two years. That program will let homeowners place various recyclable materials in one big curbside bin rather than having to sort them.

I certainly salute their ambition, which makes Houston's stalled trash pickup overhaul plan seem hopelessly timid by comparison, though I wonder how one can truly plan such a long-term project can be for a municipal government. I also wonder if they'll do better than Houston has done with curbside recycling, which isn't doing so hot even though we already don't require sorting items.

In a broader sense, I don't think we're really going to be successful at recycling until we 1) get more people to think of recycling as the default option, with throwing away the fallback, and 2) just generally make it a heck of a lot easier to recycle. That latter means things like making recycling bins at least as ubiquitous as garbage cans, especially in places like offices and eateries, where aluminum cans and plastic bottles are consumed in large quantities. The former means running a massive PR blitz to persuade people to recycle, as was done to persuade them to not smoke and not drive drunk. Perhaps the venerable Don't Mess With Texas campaign can be repurposed for this. This has to come first, as there needs to be pressure applied for the idea of Recycling Everywhere, and this seems the logical way to do it. How that's done, and who pays for it are details to be argued over, but I think the need and the benefits are clear. Who's with me on this?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 06, 2008 to The great state of Texas

I hear the recycling program here was very successful - because it was paired with a slightly more rational trash policy than most cities have (monthly charge based on size of container; pay extra for extra bags beyond that; one pickup per week).

Unfortunately, most apartments have private hauler service, so we weren't able to start recycling the most efficient way with the biggest customers. They did finally pass a rule a few years ago which required haulers servicing larger MF complexes to offer recycling of at least 2 items from the list that the city takes -- but small apartments still usually have none.

Posted by: M1EK on January 6, 2008 1:35 PM

I'm with you! I think most people probably are.

What can be done to help move these ideas along in Houston?

Posted by: Mike on January 6, 2008 6:21 PM