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How Austin Resource Recovery plans to help the city reach zero waste by 2040

The agency’s new plan outlines exactly what must change in order for Austin to divert 90% of waste from the landfill in the next 17 years.

The Austin skyline, as seen from between trees on the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail.

Austin Resource Recovery hopes to help Austinites divert more recyclable and reusable materials from the landfill.

Photo by ATXtoday

2.5 million tons. That’s how much waste was produced in Austin in 2020 — about 2.5 tons per person.

In an effort to mitigate that number, Austin City Council adopted the 2023 Austin Resource Recovery Comprehensive Plan last week, an update to its 2011 Zero Waste goal. Let’s break it down.

What does zero waste mean?

“Zero waste” doesn’t mean producing no trash whatsoever. Rather, it means city systems have the infrastructure so everything eligible for recycling, composting, reuse, repair, or donation can find its place — aka, not in a landfill.

Currently, about 40% of Austin’s waste is diverted from a landfill, but the city aims to bring that number up to 90% by 2040.

What’s stopping us?

Austin Resource Recovery identified three main challenges in reaching this goal, including a rapidly growing population and abnormal weather episodes, like recent winter storms.

Then, there’s the kicker: ARR is responsible for collecting less than 15% of the city’s total waste. This creates several difficulties, including in measuring progress.

ATX_WasteDiversionRates

Some cities, like Los Angeles, have been working toward zero waste goals for much longer than Austin has.

Graphic by ATXtoday, data via the 2023 Austin Resource Recovery Comprehensive Plan

So, what’s the plan?

We’re glad you asked. ARR’s 107-page plan outlines dozens of short-term and long-term goals, including:

  • Building out infrastructure in areas of need
  • Garnering regional support and building partnerships with other nearby cities
  • Streamlining enforcement of existing rules and regulations
  • Exploring new efforts, like applying fees for contamination, automated street sweeping, and composting at events

How far have we come?

Austin’s recycling levels are now 36% higher than the national average.

The agency’s data also shows that Austinites are producing less waste. In 1994, on average Austinites produced 5.6 pounds of waste per day. By 2010, that number fell to 4.2 pounds, and in 2022, it was 4 pounds even.

Want to learn more about Austin’s sustainability efforts? Check out the Austin Climate Equity Plan and don’t forget to brush up on what you can and can’t recycle or compost.