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In Focus: Austin’s Universal Recycling Ordinance

In Focus: Austin's Universal Recycling Ordinance

By now, you’ve probably heard the buzz: Universal Recycling Ordinances (URO) are on the rise. Municipalities are finding success by implementing UROs to tackle big picture waste management challenges.

Austin, Texas has earned a reputation for being a city with a pioneering spirit. It comes as no surprise that the city has set a goal to become zero waste by 2040. It’s an ambitious target. Fortunately, they have all the elements needed to deliver a successful program:

  • A clearly defined goal

  • A strategic plan

  • Support from the community

See the plan in action

Check out this great video from Austin Resource Recovery:

The Goal

  • Zero Waste by 2040: This means diverting 90% of waste from landfills and incinerators. Diverted materials will be recycled or re-purposed thereby transforming waste into resources.
  • Plan of action: Austin’s City Council passed a Universal Recycling Ordinance that first targets the largest waste generators: commercial and multi-family properties. These two groups generate 75% of Austin’s waste.
  • Purpose: In addition to putting Austin on the path to zero waste, the URO aims to increase the life of local landfills, reduce harm to the environment, and encourage economic development. Sounds like a win/win!
  • Mark your calendar: The city has set October 1, 2017 as the date by which all properties are required to offer recycling services to their tenants and employees.

The Plan

  • Start with the basics: Every property is required to offer recycling collection for at least five materials: #1 & #2 plastic, paper, cardboard, glass, and aluminum. This gives property owners time to get up-to-speed before the program expands.

Austin Recycled Materials

  • Roll out incrementally: Austin started this project in 2015 by engaging the city’s largest properties. The plan is to introduce smaller properties to the program in 2017 then roll out to all properties by 2018. This approach addresses the bulk of the waste and prepares smaller properties by giving them the opportunity to learn from larger waste generators.
  • Establish capacity: The Austin URO clearly defines requirements for collection capacity including bin placement, size, and the ratio of trash bins to recycling bins for each property.
  • Raise awareness: Education and outreach are key pieces of this program. Property owners are responsible for communicating how recycling collection services are available to tenants. This includes bilingual signage with supporting graphics.
Recycling Decal
Organics Decal
Trash Decal

The Support

  • Face to face: Representatives from the Austin Resource Recovery team are available to perform site visits and consultations. They can assist property owners with everything from setting up a new collection program, to suggesting proven ways to increase the impact of existing programs.
  • On the web: Online tools are offered to help property owners comply with the ordinance including: capacity calculators to determine bin requirements based on building square footage, downloadable bilingual posters and signage that can be printed, and online reporting to submit the property’s Annual Diversion Plan.

CTA for ARR Case Study