AUSTIN, Texas — Environmental advocates believe they have a solution to help reach the Austin’s goal of zero waste. Curbside composting would add a third bin to a homeowners recycling and trash cans, strictly for organic food waste.
Austin resident Mario Bravo grew up on 25 acres of land in San Antonio, and for him composting was the norm.
“I was really shocked to find out that San Antonio has it citywide and we don’t when everybody thinks of Austin as the trendsetter,” Bravo said.
For the past three years in Austin, 14,000 households have participated in the city’s pilot program for curbside composting. Those families have kept about nine pounds of waste out of landfills, per household, each week.
“That’s 44,000 tons a year of organic materials that wouldn’t be going to the landfills and will instead be going to strengthen our soils, conserve water and protect our climate,” said Andrew Dobbs with the Texas Campaign for the Environment.
Thursday, environmental advocates pushed Austin City Council to implement the policy citywide.
“We can’t keep throwing away everything,” said Dobbs. “We can’t depend upon landfills very much longer, and we’ve got a climate crisis and a soil crisis, and compost solves both of those problems.”
— Cost to Residents: —
They say it’s an obvious solution to the city’s goal of Zero Waste by 2040. Yet homeowners would see an increase of $5 a month, or $60 a year, phased in over time.
“But what’s great is the vast majority of Austin families will be able to downsize their trash and actually save money,” Dobbs said.
Bravo can’t help but think about the larger picture.
“When it goes into landfills it’s going to form a lot of methane which contributes to climate change,” he said.
That he says can all be monitored starting with a simple change in lifestyle.
— What’s Next: —
The city hopes to recycle three-quarters of its waste by 2020. Right now the city is recycling at about 40 percent. City Council will vote on the composting budget in September.
The city of Dallas is recycling at just half the rate it set as a goal in a “Zero Waste” plan that City Hall approved three years ago. But the city’s not kicking the blue bins to the curb just yet.
The plan’s first benchmark calls for getting Dallas residents and companies — by 2020 — to send 40 percent of their waste through recycling or re-use channels instead of trucking it to the landfill. That percentage — called the diversion rate — is at 21 percent, among the lowest rates of major Texas cities, according to the Sanitation Services Department.
Kelly High, the director of the department, said they are fighting a two-front battle.
“Externally we’re dealing with people in the commercial sector and properties and hotels and apartments. Internally we’re trying to increase not only participation but tonnage for our residents,” he said, meaning the amount that each resident recycles.
Dallas provides weekly recycling pickup along with its garbage pickup for residents in standalone homes. Apartment complexes can set up their own recycling system or drop off materials at one of 140 dumpster locations in Dallas. The Sanitation Services department also runs a bulk and brush program allowing residents to leave unwieldy materials such as old furniture, mattresses, tree limbs, and bagged leaves on the curb for free pickup.
Some of the department’s biggest successes, though, have been through social media. The department maintains Twitter and Facebook accounts and also released an app where residents can search for information about recyclable materials, set up reminders for recycling pickups, and a game to practice sorting materials correctly.
“We constantly engage with them [Dallas residents]. We’re monitoring our social media sites probably 18 hours a day,” said Murray Myers, the manager of the Zero Waste Division in the department. “To them, that provides a good customer service tool they might not find elsewhere.”
Better education could lead to better recycling results, but the Sanitation Services Department is still looking for new ways to reach out to residents who don’t even have a blue bin.
“Still about 20 percent of Dallas households don’t have a roll cart. We think it’s time to switch it up and reach out again…in a more hands-on, person-to-person approach where we’re going in the neighborhoods and just talking with them about recycling and why it’s important,” Myers said.
Corey Troiani, program director at advocacy group Texas Campaign for the Environment, wants to see the city require recycling for apartment buildings. He said that apartments, commercial buildings, and construction and demolition waste account for 83 percent of the city’s waste.
“The issue is that we’re still relying on the same voluntary encouragement for these folks to do these programs. Apartments, businesses and hotels are all aware of the fact that it is likely to become mandatory to have these programs in place,” Troiani said. “They’re pretty much holding out.”
The Texas Campaign for the Environment was one of the stakeholders that developed the Zero Waste Plan.
High acknowledged that a city ordinance requiring recycling could be in the cards. “At some point if that voluntary component doesn’t move forward, part of the considerations [the city] council will look at would be to make multifamily or commercial buildings provide the option for their tenants to recycle,” he said, adding that it could be brought to council in the next couple of years around the time that the Zero Waste Plan would be re-evaluated and reconfigured.
The department plans to continue strengthening its voluntary recycling program until then. In December it agreed to a public-private partnership with Spanish company Fomento de Construcciones y Contratas to build and operate a new recycling facility out of McCommas Bluff Landfill in southern Dallas.
“We can bring schoolkids there to see how recyclables are processed…right next to the landfill. It’s an opportunity to explain why we would want to move away from landfills and to more recycling,” High said.
However, that facility won’t be operating until January. And by that point, the city could be even further behind its goal for zero waste.
Passions were high Tuesday night, at a Town Hall meeting at the Grapevine Convention Center. About 40 community members attended a Town Hall to tell state lawmakers their thoughts on reforming the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC).
Despite its name, the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) is the state agency tasked with regulating the $14 billion oil and gas industry in Texas and also oversee coal mining and development, pipelines, and uranium extraction.
Next year, the state legislature will be reviewing the RRC for a third time since 2010. State agencies in Texas are reviewed by a Sunset Commission every decade or so, but the past two RRC proposals failed to lead to any changes. Many community members feel the agency is long overdue for significant reforms on enforcement, regulation, and of course a new name.
About 30 community members testified Tuesday night. Many speakers cited a list of changes proposed by the advocacy group Public Citizen. Others spoke more from the heart, like one woman who spoke viscerally of air pollution and a flurry of earthquakes experienced in Irving. Others from Denton spoke of their impacts from fracking near neighborhoods, and wanted the RRC to do more work regulating the industry than promoting it.
When it came time for my speaking spot, I reminded the present lawmakers that Texas Campaign for the Environment speaks face-to-face with Texans in every legislative district in the state, and they would be receiving letters about this issue in the coming weeks and months. Already, North Texans have written 4,000 letters to state lawmakers at the request of TCE canvassers, advocating for substantial agency changes.
Referring to the Sunset Commission Staff Report released earlier this year for the State Legislature, I compared the RRC performance on inspection and permitting to a hypothetical law officer. I will recount my statement because I think it resonated many people in the room.
Imagine for a moment that a state trooper does all his or her administrative duties with great diligence, he or she never makes an error on paperwork, but when he or she is on highway patrol, it is a well-known fact that this law officer writes warnings instead of making arrests for drunk driving 84% of the time! Now, just because this cop does excellent paperwork, does this make them a good cop?
Absolutely not! At this point, State Rep. Jim Keffer jumped in, “I’m always one of the 16% who gets the speeding ticket!” Exactly! Honorable Keffer, it isn’t fair to let droves of criminals off with trivial wrist-slaps, certainly if this isn’t their first, second, third or fourth offense.
But that’s exactly what happened with oil and gas inspections last year, 84% of violations did not result in a fine, severance of lease contract, or any punishment. The drilling operators were simply told, “Do you mind fixing this by the time we do our next inspection, two to three years from now?”
Texas Campaign for the Environment is fighting to get common sense reforms passed at the Capitol on the Railroad Commission. Some of these reforms include:
Better tracking of violations and repeat violations.
Developing a “strategic plan for the Oil and Gas Division that tracks and measures the effectiveness of monitoring and enforcement.”
Increasing the bond requirement that funds the cost of plugging and remediation of abandoned wells. Those bonds covered 15.9% of the costs in 2015 – so taxpayers are left paying the bills of industry.
Giving the agency the authority to enforce damage prevention rules of interstate pipelines.
While all of this sounds like a tiny pill to swallow, remember that this is the third attempt in six years to reform an agency that sits pretty cozy with lawmakers. Sustained pressure from constituents across the state will be needed to enact meaningful changes in the agency.
We strongly encourage you to write your state lawmakers on this topic. Followthis link to read more about our recommendations and who represents you at the State Capitol. Even better, put Monday, August 22nd on your calendar. The Sunset Commission will be holding a Public Hearing for the Railroad Commission in Austin and the state legislators and public members need to hear from concerned Texans!
The final proposal from the Sunset Commission will be submitted to the Texas Legislature on November 10th. From that date on through next year’s session we will be fighting tooth and nail to pass the strongest reforms on the agency that hasn’t been accountable to the citizens of Texas since, well, they regulated railroads.