Talkin' Trash in Texas...And What's Up With That Sad Recycling Rate? :(

In Texas, there are close to 200 active landfills and many have been filling up so quickly over the years that even in Austin, a city considered to be “green” and “eco-friendly”, three out of the 5 local landfills are scheduled to shut down soon.

We all know that recycling is important and something in which everyone should be allowed to participate as it can be a critical economic driver that helps grow businesses, keeps people employed, generates tax revenue, and of course, keeps our communities clean and garbage free. It has also become increasingly important for people and businesses to not only have access to recycling programs so they can be responsible with discards, but to be better educated on consumption habits and our disposable culture. 

Today, we’ll evaluate a recently released study by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which was mandated by the 84th Texas State Legislature under House Bill 2763, on the economic impacts of recycling and the lost revenue due to material not being recycled. The study was conducted by Burns & McDonnell and the State of Texas Alliance for Recycling (STAR), which also released the 2015 Texas Recycling Data Initiative (TRDI), a voluntary survey of landfill, recycling, and composting operators across the state to understand baseline waste diversion measurements.

An objective of the TCEQ study was to not only measure recycling in Texas, but to also provide an update to the recycling rate measured during the 2015 TRDI study. A recycling rate indicates what percentage of wastes generated by a population is diverted from landfills.

Some key measurements from the study include:

  • The generators of MSW recyclables that were studied included single-family dwellings and apartment buildings, restaurants, office parks, retail stores, hospitals, universities, and government facilities.
  • Approximately 9.2 million tons of municipal solid waste-designated material were diverted from landfills, and instead, recycled in Texas in 2015.
  • Of that 9.2 million tons, materials including paper, plastics, metal, and glass, yard trimmings, brush, green waste, food and beverage materials, and construction and demolition (C&D) discards accounted for 8.7 million tons, or 94.4% of the total recycled materials in Texas.
  • Based on the tons of municipal solid waste recycling reported for this study, the 2015 recycling rate for municipal solid waste in Texas was 22.7% and taking into account the average commodity market for typical recyclables, organic wastes, and C&D materials, the dollar amount of recycled materials in 2015 was $702 million in Texas.
  • Recycling of municipal solid waste creates economic benefits for the Texas economy, with more than 17,000 person years of direct, indirect, and induced employment supported during 2015. The overall impact of recycling MSW on the Texas economy exceeded $3.3 billion.

With Texas diverting only 22.7% of recyclable materials away from landfills, there is much work to be done. Yes, setting strong state and local recycling policies and initiating public education and outreach campaigns can pave the way toward an economic boon, but we must also look at our society's acceptance of disposability and how manufacturers plan obsolescence in the products we buy. With more conscious purchasing habits to reduce consumption, customer demand for sturdier products that are designed for recycling, and creating residential and business recycling policies across the state, Texas can take bolder steps to boost entrepreneurship, job creation, better materials management, deeper sustainability accomplishments, and a cleaner environment.

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Photo credit:

The 14th National Prescription Drug Take Back Day

The National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is Saturday, October 28, 2017 and aims to provide a safe, convenient, and responsible means of disposing of prescription drugs, while also educating the general public about the potential for abuse of medications. The primary goal of this event is to reduce prescription drug abuse, which is the use of prescription drugs for recreational purposes. Another major component to this program is the environmental benefits.

Commonly, people use their household trash bins and toilets as a means of medication disposal because they’re convenient methods, but research shows that chemicals used in medications can travel through public septic systems, waste water treatment plants, and, if thrown in landfills, these chemicals can make their way to rivers, lakes, and our soils.

For example, trace amounts of drugs that alleviate attention deficit disorders and mental depression have been found in the Barton Springs Aquifer, the Heart of Austin. Tests have also identified antibiotics, painkillers, and steroid chemicals in bodies of water and local water supplies, which pose a threat to marine life and ultimately makes their way into human life. Also, consider what happens if you improperly ditch them in your trash can. Not only could it go to a landfill and eventually leach into the groundwater, it can also allow potential abusers access to your personal information if name and address labels on prescription bottles are not destroyed. We all know the risks and negative outcomes involved in identification theft and this program can help solve them.

There has been increasing interest among the public and federal, state, and local enforcement agencies in developing methods to dispose of unused and expired pharmaceuticals. These drug takeback programs reduce drug abuse and their introduction into our landfills, public water supplies, and environment as a whole. Take back programs are clearly a win-win for both public health and environmental safety so let's make sure we all do our part this year by becoming better educated, helping to spread the word, and taking action by properly disposing of our medications using the links below!

Helpful Links:

Locate a Collection Site Near You Search by zip code or city/state to find a collection site near you.

Law Enforcement Agencies Only For law enforcement agencies that wish to host a collection site please call the SPOC in your area.

Partnership Toolbox Download posters, handouts and other materials to promote National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.


Photo credit: US Dept. of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)

Photo credit: US Dept. of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)

Recycling Returns: How China's New Import Policies Affect Global Recycling

State and local governments in the US and around the world are in a tight spot regarding China's recent policy updates on the quality of recyclable materials it imports. Businesses in places known for a culture of environmental stewardship, such as Oregon, are seeking waivers to dispose of recyclable materials that are no longer being accepted through overseas Chinese markets. These waivers may be granted depending on the results of market searches and potential sales elsewhere.

We've seen this line in the sand before when the Chinese government issued a campaign in 2013 called "The Green Wall" that was set to deter shipments of substandard and unclean recyclables, unusable scraps, mixed trash, and the like. Due to the government's prior acceptance of contaminated containers with millions of tons of unsorted and impure bales of materials, China had established itself as a sort of dumping ground for countries and businesses around the world. This is especially prominent in the realm of toxic electronic waste dumping from computers, televisions, cell phones, etc.

This abrupt shift in market flow is placing a spotlight on US communities at risk of reduced diversion services or loss of these programs, altogether, which could reduce the value of the commodities and drive recyclables to landfills. With this trend potentially affecting more areas, residents and businesses will be called upon to rethink and rapidly adapt to changing purchasing habits and prioritize waste reduction goals.

Could this be just the push Americans need in order to change our disposable society?

Photo credit: Plastics Today

Photo credit: Plastics Today

Snapshot: BioCycle Releases "State of Organics" Report

The results of a 7-month survey have been compiled and released in a recent report regarding the "State of Organics Recycling in the U. S.".

BioCycle, a magazine and website published since 1960 and specializing in composting, organics recycling, anaerobic digestion, and renewable energy, requested information from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Forty-three states and D. C. completed the survey about the number and type of organics processing facilities each has.

It has been found that there are over 4,700 composting sites nationwide. While most process yard debris (57%), such as grass clippings and tree trimmings, much fewer process food wastes. 

Did you know that between 30-40% of food in America is wasted[1] while 1 in 8 Americans struggle to get enough to eat?[2] Also, it is estimated that 25-40 percent of the food that is grown, processed, and transported in the United States will never be consumed.[i] 

With fewer food composting facilities in the US and the immense amount of food wastes in the U. S., one can bet that landfills are the final resting place of up to 60% of unconsumed foods in America.

Clearly, the opportunity exists to completely eradicate hunger in our country, which would lessen the need for more composting facilities. National groups, like Feeding America, partner with restaurants, grocers, wholesale warehouse businesses, and more to divert foods to feed hungry people in our community. And, foods that are no longer consumable by humans, but still safe for livestock can be diverted to farms and ranches. There are even industrial uses, such as yellow grease collection that is refined and used as fuel in biodiesel vehicles.

Survey snapshot of what's being recycled and the states that are stepping up:




Meal Kit Delivery Services: Are They Worth the Waste?

First and foremost, thank you for the opportunity to present our educational blog post. We’re thrilled about getting more people, businesses, and local governments all over the world more involved in the conversation of Zero Waste and the Circular Economy!

This week’s blog edition will address the meal kit delivery services industry, a new subscription-based business model where companies bring you pre-portioned, prepared meals or the raw ingredients ready to be prepared in your own kitchen.

While there are many services that consumers can tap in to on this comparison list, we decided to highlight some Meal Kit services that can not only fit most people’s budgets, but also offer aspects of social and corporate responsibility:

Blue Apron— Blue Apron has two plans: a 2-person and a 4-person subscription, both with 3 meals per week. The 2-person plan is $59.94 per week ($9.99 per person) while the family plan is $139.84 per week ($8.74 per person). The membership model allows the company to predict orders so they can utilize whole crops and eliminate wastes by growing only what’s needed.

Lettuce—A company servicing the Austin area that uses plots of land donated by residents, businesses, or local governments for organic food production. Delivers in reusable, plastic containers and takes back food scraps for composting. The cost for Lettuce ranges from about $35 - $79/week for 3 meals, at 4 servings each (Price per serving: $6.58).

Thrive Market—Uses a membership pool to increase purchasing power through direct buying, cutting out retail markups. Each membership supports the subscription for a low-income family to receive healthy foods and less toxic products, like cleaners, bath and beauty products, and baby foods. Thrive Market is around $59.95 per week.

HelloFresh-- Their delivery service also helps reduces carbon emissions. Each delivery van can deliver food bags to around 50 customers a week and optimize the route to make sure each vehicle travels the shortest distance. HelloFresh costs a bit more than the others, again with 2-person and 4-person subscription option. The 2-person plan is $69 per week ($11.50 per person) and the family plan is $129 per week ($10.75 per person). Plated prices are based on the number of plates ordered.

Meal kits have much to offer when it comes to health needs and convenience. For example, options such as catering your diet to address health ailments or weight loss goals can be included in deciding if meal kits are right for you and your family. Not to mention, relieving you from the stress that comes with going to the grocery store, like loading up the kids, battling traffic, finding a parking spot, waiting in line, paying retail prices, etc.

There are many ways to look at the various pros and cons with each of these services but we are here to focus on the planet and the environmental side effects that come with this type of delivery service that should be considered.

The waste produced by meal kits services is no match to the waste produced by grocery shopping, but it should not be overlooked. If you think about the supply chain with meal delivery services, the amount of cardboard and plastic packaging is tremendous: the plastic wrapping used to keep the actual ingredients fresh, the cardboard box with the company logo that all the ingredients are packed in, and the larger box holding all of the smaller boxes of product to minimize damage through transportation.

One of the biggest issues is not the amount of cardboard that is produced, but what happens to that cardboard afterwards. Currently there seems to be no responsibility from these types of companies to provide a recycling service or solution for their customers. It is expected that subscribers to these programs deal with the company’s wastes in their own municipal recycling bin or, if that person doesn’t have local recycling services, throwing the materials into their own landfill trash bin.

Each scenario increases the cost to that residential taxpayer in waste services if an additional pickup may be needed because of this unexpected excess waste. Not only that, we have all seen the massive increases in waste materials produced by companies like Amazon and other delivery services. Both businesses and residents can benefit when solutions to wastes are addressed, such as:

●     Creating local jobs and supporting the tax base through recycling and reuse

●     Extending the life of currently established landfills

●     Conserving natural resources for future generations

●     Mitigating climate impacts

●     Corporate accountability to culture change

Wouldn’t it be great if meal kit services employed reusable containers that could be exchanged upon delivery and where the company has a take-back program focused on reusing the empty ones for other orders? When do consumers start to speak up on these operational inefficiencies?

For that to happen consumers must start leveraging the power of their dollar and loyalty to demand better practices and work towards a mutually beneficial solution. This can be done by submitting a comment on the company’s social media pages, writing to the company via snail mail, calling to speak with the customer service department, writing a Letter to the Editor in the local newspaper, etc.

The bottom line is that nothing will be done until we begin asking more questions. It starts right here with you by speaking up and continuing the conversation.

If you liked this blog post, please comment below and tell us your thoughts! Also, don’t forget to share on social media and include our link to support relevant topics in your newsletters and email blasts!

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Rep. Ellison Calls for Moral Drive on Zero Waste

Wrapping up the national Resource Recycling Conference in Minneapolis this week, US Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, called for taking a moral stand regarding climate change and consumerism by highlighting the benefits of Zero Waste.

With visions of a "Zero Waste society", Ellison stated, "Our economy is structured around consumption. We need to restructure it around the benefits of society." He also said, "You are working on what may be the most important thing for anyone to work on, which is saving this planet. I believe zero waste and recycling are an important way to do it." 

By introducing a $100 million recycling bill (H. R. 1034), Ellison is challenging the political will of Congress to fund the infrastructure necessary to create well-paying recycling jobs, which can boost economic vitality and prioritize sustainability.

Barnes Johnson, Director of the EPA's Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery, was also in attendance at the conference. When asked about the current presidential administration's track record on environmental concerns, he noted that Zero Waste is a concept and practice around resource efficiency and optimization that anyone can get behind. He assured the crowd of recycling professionals that the EPA will continue to stand for its core values around food waste reduction and sustainable materials management.

With businesses around the world heeding the call, Zero Waste is becoming a norm in operational efficiencies. Not only that, consumers are becoming more demanding of corporate responsibility in exchange for their loyalty and dollar. 

To make it an official policy that municipalities and enterprise can more easily sign on to, it will now come down to the voters. In pushing this legislation for passage, citizens can hold public officials accountable to job growth through the new Zero Waste economy with the added benefits of cleaner air, land, and water.

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With Natural Disasters Come Massive Wastes

Due to #HurricaneHarvey, Texas communities could face years of cleanup. While recovery will focus on immediate community repair, most cities do not have a plan in place to address recycling and salvaging of valuable materials after a natural disaster.

From toxic chemicals and electronics to materials trashed from gutting homes and businesses for rebuilding efforts, the state's landfills will be taxed with housing massive amounts of incoming wastes at the taxpayer's expense.

Cities need a recovery plan for capturing useable discards that should not be landfilled. While this type of cleanup may not be a priority for some, it is a low-hanging fruit that could be used to reinvigorate local economies and put people back to work.


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Photo credit:

Article: Austin to Continue Simple Recycling Program Despite Drop in Customers

Textile recycling is a big part of #ZeroWaste and much of that comes from clothing donations to local charities, but the City of #Austin has taken a different approach.

By contracting with Simple Recycling, local residents can now put textiles and home furnishings in special bags for curbside collection. Charities, such as Goodwill, have challenged this city contract and business model claiming their clothing donation stream has been affected.

Despite a major decrease in residential use of the Simple Recycling program since January, the City will continue the contract.

Republic's Telling Infographic on the Hidden Costs of Waste

Republic Services, the well-known, international landfilling and recycling company, has just released a very telling infographic that highlights the costs of wastes for businesses across the country.

Drawing from EPA and nonprofit studies, business owners are:

  • Paying and average of $50 per ton to dump in landfills each year.
  • Spending a combined $165 million in environmental & legal fees annually.
  • Spending a combined 155 years in jail for environmental violations.

But innovative businesses are reaping the rewards of literally following the "3 R's" of waste reduction, reuse, and recycling and experiencing cost savings:

  • On the back end, businesses are prioritizing tighter inventory control so purchasing of unnecessary items is avoided. Also, identifying ways to reuse already purchased goods can give items like office supplies and furniture a 2nd or even 3rd life cycle.
  • On the front end, businesses are understanding that it is imperative to "right-size" containers to maximize dumpster space and optimize the frequency of hauling pickups. It just doesn't make sense to contract for peak services all year if a business can "right-size" a hauling contract and call for extra pickups during peak times of the year, like the holidays.
  • It is estimated that recycling can be up to 40% less expensive than trash hauling, so it's clear that taking a second look into business wastes and diverting as much recycling as possible can have a real effect on the bottom line.
  • Also, many businesses are getting organics, such as excess food and landscape trimmings, out of their dumpsters. Through food purchase reductions, food donations to feed hungry people and animals in our communities, and/or composting organic wastes, business owners can free up about 40% of dumpster space for actual trash that cannot be recycled.

Over the past several decades, the green efforts of businesses and governments have spawned customers who are becoming keenly aware of and demand sustainable practices. Based on the report, 60% of consumers are more likely to shop companies that have a strong environmental track record.

With multiple ways to save money and increase customer loyalty, why would any business continue to trash highly valuable discards that create jobs and boost local economies?

Changes May Come to Austin's Construction/Demolition Recycling Ordinance

On Wednesday, May 31st the City of Austin Resource Recovery Department (ARR) called a working group meeting of the Zero Waste Advisory Commission (ZWAC) to address issues around the city's Construction & Demolition (C & D) ordinance and Administrative Rules.

Present were local haulers and processors to provide expertise and insights to the working group members about having to meet ordinance requirements, but perceiving to not have ample opportunity to do so. And, being positioned between a city ordinance that mandates at least 50% recycling at construction, demolition, and renovation sites of 5,000 sq. ft. or more and not having many opportunities to rid a site of the discards properly leaves haulers and General Contractors facing non-compliance.

One of the issues is that some processors won't take C & D materials from 3rd party haulers because of contamination, which affects the quality of the streams and lowers the value of the debris. Some processors have professional agreements with only 2 or 3 trusted haulers that ensure streams are kept clean and capacity constraints don't arise. 

Another issue is that sites that are seeking LEED certification are allowed through those standards to incinerate some materials that cannot be redirected through reuse and recycling and call it diversion instead of disposal. But, the international definition of Zero Waste and the City of Austin Zero Waste Strategic Plan calls for no burning of wastes and labels any burning as disposal, not diversion.

These standards are at odds with each other in addressing highest and best use of materials and the haulers and processors could pay the price if language in the local policy are not addressed.

ARR will call another ZWAC working group meeting soon to get more stakeholders to the table. The city is especially seeking General Contractors who can bring expertise around managing C & D projects and having to comply with the diversion requirements.