Robin Schneider, Executive Director
Sometimes, campaign victories look just like they do in the movies – a crowd assembles, people speak eloquently as a community to reject (or support) something, and you can almost hear the heroic soundtrack swelling.
Other times, it’s not like that at all. A bad idea comes up, first privately, then publicly, and it starts getting some traction among elected officials. But then skilled community organizers move to generate letters, phone calls and emails against it, stopping the proposal from ever coming up for a public vote. It dies a quiet, meek death.
That’s how it was with the bad idea to derail Austin’s comprehensive Zero Waste Plan. We won this campaign quickly and quietly, so if you didn’t hear about it – well, that’s what this blog post is for.
Let’s start with the background. At the end of 2012, the City of Austin began its pilot program for expanding its yard waste curbside pick-up to include food waste and food-soiled paper such as pizza boxes. More households were added in 2014 to bring it up to a total of 14,000 homes.
In this year’s city budget process, the Austin Resource Recovery Department (the new name for the Solid Waste Department) proposed a $1.70 monthly rate increase to cover a wide variety of services including street sweeping, dead animal pick-up and many others. Four cents of the fee was to fund trucks for expanding the curbside organics collection.
Some members of Austin City Council floated the idea that the curbside composting program should not be universal for all residents, but should instead be a subscription-only service. Only some residents would be able to pay for this, leaving many Austinites without access. This bad idea was gaining momentum as more City Council members seemed to gravitate toward it.
We knew it would be impossible to reach our long-term Zero Waste goal – to divert 90% of our discards from the landfill by 2040 – without curbside composting for all residents. And we knew it would be unfair to treat this as a “luxury” service only for certain residents. In addition, because organics in landfills generate methane, a flammable and powerful climate change gas, organics diversion is a high priority for our climate protection goals as well.
So Texas Campaign for the Environment and our allies swung into action and found widespread support for universal curbside organics collection. In a matter of just a few days, hundreds of constituents wrote letters, emailed, called and met with their Council members. Environmental leaders signed onto a joint letter calling for environmental leadership. In the end, there was not enough support on City Council for the idea to even come up for a vote. VICTORY! (But no swelling soundtrack.)
A few weeks later, Austin Mayor Steve Adler addressed the crowd at our 5th Annual Trash Makeover Challenge. The Mayor made note of expanded parks funding in the newly adopted budget, and then he summed up our victory this way:
“We didn’t see a debate and public vote on whether to move forward with our resource recovery and conservation goals in Austin. It just went through. And that’s because of the people in this room.”
By the way, our event showcased amazing designs made out of at least 90% recycled materials and you can see lots of great pictures here.
The development and implementation of Austin’s curbside composting program is still in the works. It’s not a sure thing – future City Council budget sessions will need to continue its funding. However, we will be at the table and we will be mobilizing Austinites to support this crucial piece of our Zero Waste plan. Other Texas cities such as San Antonio are already rolling out these services. Austin needs to stay on the leading edge for a more sustainable future.
Robin Schneider, Executive Director
Categories: News Clipping