City officials are asking Austinites in 7,900 households in five parts of the city to separate their banana peels, egg shells, meat, chicken bones, milk cartons, leaves and any other organic material from their household trash and put the material into a new rolling garbage cart.
The one-year trial run will cost the city $485,000. That includes new green 96-gallon composting carts — the same size as the blue recycling bins that now dot the city. Residents also get indoor 2.4-gallon food scrap receptacles, the contents of which can be dumped into the green carts, and educational and promotional materials.
To combat the yuck factor, officials are distributing information about the reasons for composting, a natural process that breaks down organic materials into a nutrient-rich, soil-like material.
As usable as compost is, nearly half of the materials that end up in landfills can be composted. With a city goal to send no waste to landfills by 2040, compost collection is a natural next step, said Richard McHale, a manager at Austin Resource Recovery.
The city is not adding any equipment or staff for the program, McHale said.
Sanitation workers will pick up the compostable material weekly. But instead of hauling the stuff to the landfill, it will be taken to a private composting company just east of Texas 130.
A roughly yearlong restaurant composting pilot at 14 establishments wrapped up in the fall. At least 40 percent of landfill waste was diverted, and in some cases nearly 80 percent was, according to a presentation to the Zero Waste Advisory Commission in November by Resource Recovery waste diversion planner Woody Raine.
McHale said he hopes to expand the compost curbside program citywide within three years. He had no cost estimate for a citywide program. For now, city officials also won’t answer questions about how a citywide composting program would affect monthly utility bills.
“As we are able to determine participation and diversion amounts through the early phases of this initiative, we will be better able to determine any fiscal impacts the program will have when the program is fully implemented throughout the city,” Resource Recovery spokeswoman Lauren Hammond said. The department anticipates “that organics diverted from the landfill will help offset expenses related to curbside collection programs.”
The city of San Antonio has also done a pilot program for curbside compost collection, though I don’t know where that now stands. Austin has done some other things in recent years to encourage composting. I’ll be very interested to see how this goes. Houston does have separate collection for yard waste, but you have to use compostable bags that are not cheap and not terribly sturdy. Austin’s program is in the right direction, and it’s likely the way we’ll all have to go eventually. It will take awhile for people to get used to it, and I daresay some kind of fee structure that strongly incentivizes properly separating one’s trash will help spur that along. We compost at home, and really, it’s not that big a deal. I hope to see something like this in Houston in the near future.