Southwest Austin Dripping Springs Edition | June 2023

ENVIRONMENT Austin struggles with trash diversion goals


In 2011, Austin City Council set a goal to divert 90% of trash somewhere other than a landll by 2030 as part of its Zero Waste 2040 plan.

Austin's 2011 goal

Austin's progress



As Austin continues to struggle with trash in its waterways and landlls, environmental leaders are re-evaluating how best to combat it. The road to zero waste Austin Resource Recovery is working on updating its master plan known as Zero Waste by 2040 as the city is lagging behind its goals. The plan—initiated in 2011—outlined a goal to divert 90% of trash from landlls and reduce Austin’s total annual waste to 37,000 tons by 2040. To be on track with ARR’s 2011 plan, Austin would have had to hit a 75% diversion rate by 2020. However, the diversion rate at the end of scal year 2022 was only 37.95%. So far, ARR’s 2023 diver- sion rate is at 72.37%, which ARR representatives said is due to the large amount of tree debris that was recycled following Winter Storm Mara. Diverting more trash will make the city’s landlls last longer and reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere, according to ARR. However, making an impact will require residents to collectively consume less and waste less, Andrew Clamann, an environmental scientist for the Austin Watershed Protection Department said. ARR will present an updated plan—now called the Zero Waste Comprehensive Plan—this summer. The update will still maintain Austin’s original goal of diverting 90% of trash by 2040, however it will take into consideration the lessons learned about the industry since 2011. The city struggled to divert unfamiliar types of plastics found in food packaging and is implementing new technologies to recycle them, according to ARR. The city is also developing new strategies to handle the increased amount of waste created by Austin’s population boom. Trash in creeks The city is also working on reducing trash in


The 2023 diversion rate is higher than previous years due to the large amount of debris from Winter Storm Mara, which did not go into landlls, according to ARR.






materials found in trash can be ingested by wildlife and slowly release chemicals into the waterways. City eorts ARR, the watershed protection department, and the Austin Parks and Recreation Department implemented a slew of programs to reduce the amount of trash littered. The Violet Bag Program— led by ARR—provides trash bags and disposal kiosks to people experiencing homelessness near known encampments. The parks and recreation department’s Leave No Trace program encourages hikers not to litter, and the watershed protection department’s Adopt-a-Drain program requires participants to clean their adopted drains twice a month and before a big rain event. The department also hired six full-time employ- ees to manually extract trash from creeks and riparian corridors. Since October 2021, 48 tons of trash have been removed from Lady Bird Lake, and 11 tons was removed by volunteers.

creeks as a report found an abundance of single-use plastics, clothing, shopping carts and more in 110 miles of local waterways. The 130-page report found no one source is responsible for the amount of trash in creeks, but rather the issue stems from the combined eects of illegal dumping, homeless encampments, utility work, poor property management and other factors. Single-use plastics and food takeout containers were the most common items found in the creeks. Shopping carts, toys, cables and clothing were also prevalent. Cigarette butts, vape devices and hypodermic needles were rare, according to the report, and only found every few miles. Clamann said the overall state of Austin’s creeks is alright but should be much better. “Although when many people think about trash in creeks, they have an image of a turtle stuck in a six-pack ring, but these visceral images are actually much less insidious than the impacts that we don’t see,” Clamann said. He added the microplastics, paint, metal and other



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