In every Austin home, there is the option to trash your waste or recycle it (many even have a composting option available). So why aren’t Austinites given the same opportunity at the city of Austin’s parks and recreational facilities?
At the April 11 meeting of the Zero Waste Advisory Commission, Liana Kallivoka, the assistant director of the Parks and Recreation Department, provided an answer to this question. “There is an undeniable financial block for the implementation,” she explained.
“At the rate we’re going, we’re going to be in the 2020s without a full implementation of recycling,” said Commissioner Kaiba White, who proposed a resolution to recommend that in 2019 City Council fund the initiative to expand the recycling program in city of Austin parks and recreational facilities. The resolution was passed unanimously.
The city’s Universal Recycling Ordinance states that “all commercial (including City) properties in Austin are required to have recycling.” However, open spaces, including public parks, are not included in the current ordinance.
That is not to say that the city doesn’t recycle. Currently, recycling is available at administrative offices, recreation centers, some pools, museums and cultural centers, and special events at parks. However, Parks and Recreation wants a comprehensive program in all its outdoor facilities, and to do so it has partnered with Austin Resource Recovery.
Commissioner Joshua Blaine commended the department’s efforts to go above and beyond. “Recycling in parks is not explicitly included in the Universal Recycling Ordinance, and yet you’re making efforts to do so anyway,” he said. He suggested that perhaps amending the ordinance to include these facilities would “help with budget concerns.”
Another suggestion to offset costs came from Commissioner Amanda Masino, who proposed repurposing the proceeds that Parks and Recreation receives from festivals and events that are held on city spaces to fund the expansion of recycling efforts. The department receives several dollars from each ticket sold at public festivals.
Andrew Dobbs from the Texas Campaign for the Environment noted that another source of funding could come directly from Council members. Council Member Alison Alter provided funding for recycling in her District 10 parks.
Kallivoka explained that the department needs $250,000 to roll out a three-phase recycling implementation in city parkland. Each pair of trash-recycling bins costs $1,100 to purchase and install, and there are 2,500 trash-only receptacles to replace in city parks.
“I believe we are a creative, innovative community, and we don’t have to reinvent the wheel on this,” said Chair Gerry Acuna. He proposed involving private businesses in the initiative. “Let them have some ownership in this. It could provide a lot of funding,” he said.
Regardless of how Council chooses to do it, commissioners agreed that Parks and Recreation is going to require a significant addition of funding for this initiative.
Dobbs noted, “The good news is that we’re at a point where everyone wants to do this.”
On May 5, 2018 voters in Cedar Park will elect a new mayor and three new members of the City Council. These four new leaders will form a MAJORITY of the City Council: the right four could mean a greener, more responsible future for Cedar Park. To help voters know just where the candidates stand on the issues most important to Texas Campaign for the Environment and our supporters we asked the 8 candidates the following questions:
1. How important is it to you that Cedar Park divert discards away from landfills?
2. Would you support a formal policy committing the City of Cedar Park to specific waste diversion goals?
3. What policies or programs do you support to increase waste diversion? Specifically to you support…
a. Diverting yard waste and bulk waste away from landfilling and into mulching, composting, and recycling?
b. A pilot program for curbside compost collection?
c. Investing in a year-round household hazardous waste collection center, perhaps through a public-private partnership?
d. Any other initiatives?
4. Would you support ordinances guaranteeing recycling services at apartment/condo complexes? Would you support such an ordinance for commercial businesses?
1. Extremely important! I was very surprised that recycling wasn’t the norm when we moved here. I’m not sure citizens realize the jobs that are created by increased diversion as well as the environmental benefits and the opportunity to educate the public and possibly re-distribute usable goods.
2. Yes! A goal with a plan is just a wish. If we don’t take steps to define what we want our end goal to be, why talk about it? Why suggest it? I would like to see a well-thought out plan for moving Cedar Park towards zero waste, including a cost break down as well as a benefit breakdown.
3. a. Yes, as this is great for the city and could potentially become another source of income for the City.
b. Yes, I would support a pilot program for curbside compost. Pickup schedules, bins and a plan for the compost (donation or sales) would need to be part of the proposal.
c. Yes I support this, and want to explore the possibility of public-private partnerships or collaborations with area non-profits to defray costs.
d. I partnered with Break It Down Austin while I was a grocery store manager to come in and streamline our recycling needs (packing materials, shrink wrap, compost, paper, cardboard).
4. Yes, I would be in favor of mandatory recycling ordinances for apartments (which many communities around Texas—including San Marcos, San Antonio, Fort Worth, Allen, Euless and several others—already have) and commercial businesses. This would need to be a coordinated effort with complexes and business with perhaps an incentive program attached. Perhaps discounts on rain barrels or systems for recyling water used on the grounds of their properties.
The grassroots campaign against plastic straws is gaining traction in North Texas. Two Dallas bar owners recently announced they are switching from plastic to paper straws this month.
Nell Scarborough, owner of Liquid Zoo, and Lee Daugherty, owner of Alexandre’s Bar, in Dallas, said they both made the decision based on environmental concerns.
“I’d seen the news story about how plastic straws are ruining the ocean and hurting marine life,” said Scarborough. “I said ‘We need to do away with this. I’m going to take a step forward.’”
Following her decision, Scarborough made a presentation to the Dallas Tavern Guild, an association of LGBT bars and nightclubs, and urged others to follow her lead.
Daugherty, also a member of the Dallas Tavern Guild, said he had already been researching ways to achieve zero waste. He’d performed a trash audit with help from Texas Campaign for the Environment and learned the majority of his bar’s waste could be recycled. When he heard about Scarborough’s plan, it gave him the nudge he needed.
“After recyclables, the stuff we’re left with is mostly beverage napkins and single use plastic straws. When Liquid Zoo made the announcement, we praised them for leading on this.”
He admitted there are challenges that may keep some business owners from jumping on the band wagon. Paper straws are not yet easily obtained through traditional suppliers and still cost more than plastic straws.
Chris Dahlander, owner of Dallas-based Snappy Salads, a local paper straw pioneer, confirmed that paper straws cost about three cents per straw as opposed to .06 cents per the plastic ones. They also require a lid with a bigger hole for the straw so it doesn’t get pinched. He said making the switch in 2014 at Snappy Salads, which now has 17 locations across DFW, Austin and Houston, required a commitment to planet over profit.
“I figured we saved the world from 1.3 millon plastic straws since we started using paper straws,” he said.
In addition to paper straws, Snappy Salad uses biodegradable takeout containers, cups and utensils as well as LED lighting and countertops made from recycled bottles. Many customers appreciate his eco-friendly practices. He’s also weathered complaints.
“Some detractors are very vocal,” said Dahlander. “They feel affronted, offended and downright mad.”
One customer wrote him saying he hated the paper straws so much that he brings his own plastic straw to the restaurant.
“I’ll send them the YouTube video of the turtle having the plastic straw removed from his nose,” said Dahlander. “8 times out of 10, they’ll say ‘I didn’t know that.’ Most are just not aware or they don’t want to believe the stories.”
Dahlander refers to the heartwrenching video shot by marine biologist and Texas A&M doctoral student Christine Feggener and fellow researcher Nathan Robinson. It shows the pair extracting a four-inch plastic straw from a Ridley sea turtle they captured off the coast of Costa Rica.
“Plastic pollution is a big reality for me, at least, because I see a lot of plastic and how turtles are affected by plastic,” Feggener told the Tampa Bay Times. “But not everybody lives that reality.”
According to the Plastic Pollution Coalition, more than 500 million plastic straws are used each day in the U.S. That’s enough to wrap the globe 2.5 times every day. They are not typically recycled, primarily due to their small size. Most end up in landfills, on roadsides or in waterways and oceans. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, plastic straws are one of the top five most common items found on shores during International Coastal Cleanups.
“We’re seeing a lot in the news about plastic waste in the ocean,” said Corey Troiani, director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment. “It’s becoming a more visual problem, which is why were seeing this kind of response. People are beginning to connect the dots about where these things are going.”
Dahlander said he feels proud he’s no longer contributing to those statistics. Simply refusing a plastic straw in a restaurant will make those around you think about the issue, he added.
“If we all do our small part, we can change how the earth is reacting to our impact. As far as I can tell, we have one planet Earth, we need to take care of it.”
A plan for designing the cleanup of the San Jacinto Waste Pits has been agreed upon by the Environmental Protection Agency and the companies responsible for the contamination, which means it likely will happen sooner rather than later.
The EPA on Monday announced the agreement, the next step toward removing about 212,000 cubic yards of material contaminated with cancer-causing dioxin from the pits. The work is estimated to cost $115 million.
The EPA’s removal announcement in October came just two weeks after officials confirmed that a concrete cap used to cover the pits since 2011 had sprung a leak during Hurricane Harvey’s flooding.
After Harvey, agency officials found dioxin in sediment near the pits at a level more than 2,000 times the EPA standard for cleanup. Subsequent testing, done after the cap was repaired, showed far lower levels of dioxin in that area, officials said in a December meeting.
U.S. Rep. Pete Olson said in a statement Monday that he’s pleased to see state and federal officials taking this step.
“Our community deserves to know the water is clean and safe,” he added. “I look forward to seeing this site addressed as quickly and safely as possible so that folks don’t have to worry about this in the future.”
The waste pits became a federal Superfund site in 2008.
The U.S. Department of Justice and EPA now will start working with the companies to agree on methods for the cleanup.
“Let’s lay down the sword, pick up the shovel and start digging,” Owens said.
Gov. Greg Abbott’s office on Thursday lifted the suspension of environmental regulations put in place almost seven months ago as Hurricane Harvey bore down on Texas.
On Aug. 28, three days after Harvey began pummeling the Houston area, Abbott suspended many environmental regulations relating to air pollution, wastewater and fuel standards for vehicles.
The governor’s Harvey disaster declaration suspended environmental reporting and record-keeping rules as well as liability for unauthorized emissions for the duration of the disaster declaration, an order most recently renewed on March 16. A spokesman for the state environmental agency said the suspensions apply only when rules would hinder disaster response.
But on Thursday, James Person, assistant general counsel in the governor’s office, sent a letter to the TCEQ agreeing with them that it was time to lift the suspension.
“The TCEQ now asserts that the suspension is no longer necessary,” Person wrote. “Based on the TCEQ’s assertion and our office’s review, the Office of the Governor hereby grants TCEQ’s request to terminate the temporary suspension of those rules.”
The Chronicle obtained a copy of the letter late Thursday night. TCEQ could not immediately be reached for comment and it’s not clear when TCEQ asked for the suspension to be lifted.
The governor’s office says the waivers are under “constant evaluation”, and will be ended when they’re no longer needed.
Advocacy groups say Texas needs to reinstate pollution rules that have been suspended since Hurricane Harvey. They argue the waivers just aren’t needed more than seven months after the storm.
Limits on multiple types of pollution are still not being enforced in the Harvey-hit counties where disaster declarations remain in effect. That includes the Houston area, home to many refineries and chemical plants, which haven’t been required to report air pollution violations since the storm.
Companies have acknowledged excess pollution in recent months, but since they don’t have to, Barone is worried the data could be incomplete.
Governor Greg Abbott can reinstate the rules, or they’ll go back into effect when the disaster declarations are lifted.
“The purpose of waiving regulations was to aid Houston, Harris County and the entire affected region and allow them to more swiftly respond and restore their communities,” said Abbott spokesperson Mac Walker. “This is a process under constant evaluation, and to the extent the waivers are no longer needed, they will end.”