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Business Participation Crucial to Meeting Austin's 'Zero Waste' Goal

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
KUT News

Austin has a goal to become a so-called “zero waste” city by 2040. That means only 10 percent of the city’s garbage can end up in a landfill.  A conference in town this week aims at helping the city meet that goal.

Austin homeowners throw their recycling in big blue bins, it gets picked up by the city and sorted out at recycling centers. But that residential waste accounts for under 15 percent of all the stuff thrown out in Austin. According to a recent city-commissioned study, most of the rest comes from businesses. That doesn’t surprise Stephanie Barger. She said that businesses create 60 to 70 percent of overall waste nationwide. 

Barger is executive director of the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council, which is holding a conference in Austin this week to highlight how businesses can help cities meet zero-waste goals. For one thing, she said, private enterprise can generally move faster than government. One of the tricks to getting companies on board is to convince them they can make money reselling their waste, and that means no blue bins for business.

“Most of our zero waste businesses have anywhere from six to 10 different bins out back, and they are selling those and making hundreds of thousands of dollars because they’re creating new commodities, new raw materials,” she said.

To spur business recycling in Austin, the city plans to create what it’s calling a “remanufacturing” hub where waste can be repurposed or recycled, though critics say it is costly and may not be as effective as the city hopes. 

Mose Buchele focuses on energy and environmental reporting at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.
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