Austin Resource Recovery Charts a New Course to Achieving Zero Waste

A quick look at the city’s new Comprehensive Plan

A trash truck at a landfill from above (Photo by Getty Images)

Passed with little comment alongside a series of items on its consent agenda, City Council adopted a new path to salvation for Austin’s landfills at last Thursday’s meeting.

A self-proclaimed “road map toward zero waste,” Austin Resource Recovery’s existing 2011 Master Plan committed Austin to near total solid waste diversion from landfills by 2040. Now with just under two decades to go – and diverting only 40% of materials from landfills in 2020 despite a goal of 75% – the Master Plan is getting a facelift. Or, rather, an “update,” as ARR dubs its newly released Comprehensive Plan.

The nascent document identifies among a spate of challenges three central obstacles to achieving its now-teenaged zero waste goal. The first two are familiar: Austin has experienced a 20% population increase over the past decade (a surprisingly low metric, frankly) and now regularly encounters “abnormal” weather events that can disrupt services. In response, the Comprehensive Plan acknowledges that since they (both people and meteorological tumult) have already come, it’s probably time to build it: more infrastructure, more recycling and circular economy education programs, and more access to digital tools and collection services.

Far more confounding, however, is a characteristically Texan third obstacle: waste stream privatization. The Comprehensive Plan estimates that private companies collect 85% of the city’s waste, up from 75% in 2010. Such privatization, it says, precludes the city from being able to collect accurate data on its progress towards achieving zero waste, as companies fear that any numbers they share will become public record – and ammunition for competitors. Its solution to this foil? For starters, tracking the capture rate of specific materials and landfill diversion rate per capita, while also improving its own technologies and conducting routine waste characterization studies.

ARR says that it’s already broken ground on a few of the plan’s goals, including the creation of an EPA-funded furniture repair and reuse warehouse. Still, achieving zero waste is a tall order, and ARR acknowledges that there is a long road ahead to ticking off the more than 60 near- and long-term goals it lays out in its Comprehensive Plan.

“It’s important that we all do our part by reducing the trash we create, reusing items when possible and recycling and composting properly at home and at work,” Austin Resource Recovery said in a statement. “Together, we can make Austin a more sustainable community for us all.”

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

Please enable JavaScript to view comments.