Resource Recycling Magazine: Study: Nearly half of Austin’s residential trash is compostable

Study: Nearly half of Austin’s residential trash is compostable

By Editorial Staff, Resource Recycling

June 30, 2015

More than 46 percent of the curbside residential garbage in Austin, Texas is compostable material – an estimated 52,920 tons annually.

Yard trimmings alone make up 6.6 percent of the trash stream, or about 7,500 tons, despite the fact the city has a separate yard debris collection program.

The numbers come from a residential-waste characterization study exploring the composition of material collected at the curb in Austin. The study was conducted by consulting firm CB&I Environmental and Infrastructure for the city’s waste management arm, Austin Resource Recovery. Crews analyzed various loads of garbage and recyclable materials during the 2014 fiscal year.

"The [study] offers a stark view of the ‘waste’ discarded into the residential trash carts," Bob Gedert, Austin Resource Recovery director, wrote in a summary. "Of the residential trash sent to the landfill, 44.8 percent is recyclables and 46.3 percent is organics. This study demonstrates that 90 percent of what is sent to the landfill can be diverted toward recycling and organic composting."

The city’s goal is a 50 percent diversion rate by December of this year; its current curbside diversion rate is about 40 percent.

The City currently provides weekly yard trimmings collection, and twice-yearly collection of large brush. It’s also conducting a curbside food scraps pilot program serving 14,000 households each week.

The report recommended boosting food scraps service.

"Food waste, as the single largest component of the disposed waste stream, represents an opportunity for a substantial increase in diversion if collection service is provided to more households," the report noted.

Gedert said the Austin City Council is currently reviewing a five-year rollout of enhanced curbside organics collection. City staff proposed a schedule rolling out boosted service from 2016 to 2020.

The report also found a significant volume of potentially recyclable materials being thrown in the trash, including paper (22.8 percent of the waste stream), plastics (12.8 percent), metals (4.4 percent) and glass (3.9 percent).

"The results of this study have been discussed with staff, and a new incentive outreach campaign is being designed and will roll ­out in November 2015 on America Recycles Day," Gedert wrote in response.

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