Austin Resource Recovery

Austin took an important step to move toward a more sustainable future by adopting Texas’ first Zero Waste Plan. The City’s Zero Waste goal is to reduce the amount of waste its one million households send to landfill by 90 percent by the year 2040. The Plan addresses both upstream and downstream policy and program options; green business, green buildings, and jobs; and regional coordination. Austin’s Zero Waste Plan takes into consideration its current and planned public and private solid waste infrastructure, as well as the city’s Climate Protection Program. Recommendations developed through the process are integral to attaining the United Nations Urban Environmental Accord’s goal to reduce by 20% the per capita solid waste disposal to landfills by 2012, divert 75% of waste from landfills by 2020, and 90%  by 2040.

As part of these goals, residents of Austin and Travis County can bring all types of batteries – along with other materials such as paint, electronics, automotive products and chemicals – to the Household Hazardous Waste Facility (HHW Facility), operated by Austin Resource Recovery (a City of Austin service), for safe disposal and/or recycling. There are a number of locations around town to drop off household batteries free of charge. To facilitate disposal of the collected batteries, the City has been working with Call2Recycle®, recycling over 40,000 pounds of rechargeable batteries since joining the program in 2004.

Austin-Zero-Waste-GraphicsThere are no laws in Texas mandating battery recycling or retailer take-back programs, so the success of Austin’s voluntary program can be partially attributed to the strong environmental advocacy of its residents and progressive waste reduction policy. Battery recycling, for button batteries only, was first implemented in the city in the early ‘90s and expanded to all types of batteries, including rechargeables, a few years later. At the time, the City handled collection and disposal through its own waste management agencies and did not partner with any vendors; residents could drop off batteries at designated retail locations such as RadioShack®, The Home Depot®, Best Buy® and Lowe’s®.

“Our first recycling boxes were tiny because they were just for button batteries, but then we started doing all types of batteries, including rechargeable batteries, so the boxes got bigger and there were more participants and bigger collections,” said Dawn Whipple, waste management program manager, City of Austin Household Hazardous Waste. “Throughout the years we’ve just picked up more and more batteries all over town. Last year we picked up 55,000 batteries.”

Batteries from the city-wide drop off program, as well as from those dropped off at the HHW Facility, are processed at the facility. Sorted rechargeable batteries are bulk shipped through Call2Recycle free of charge. The quantity of rechargeable batteries recycled continues to rise, with Austin Resource Recovery shipping 1,400 -2,000 lbs. every month. Austin was also the first community to participate in the GreenVantage program, a new program for municipalities where Call2Recycle offsets a portion of the sorting and handling costs associated with preparing batteries in accordance with DOT requirements.”

The major benefit for Austin in working with Call2Recycle according to Whipple, has been the detailed reporting on collection totals and breakdowns that the Call2Recycle team can provide to the department.

Another benefit to working with Call2Recycle, says Whipple, is that the organization is well-established and nationally known. “There is a peace-of-mind that comes with the downstream recycling. We know the materials are being properly handled and responsibly recycled and that is important to the overall goals of the Zero Waste Plan. Also, Call2Recycle promotes the program, which helps with our overall recycling goals.”

Although partnered with Call2Recycle to ensure safe and timely disposal of the rechargeable batteries, the City does not advertise the program. It is considering a pilot program with Call2Recycle in Austin that would promote awareness of rechargeable battery recycling and the drop-off locations to see how it would affect the City’s already successful recycling volumes. “Working with Call2Recycle to promote our battery recycling efforts will result in greater awareness and greater collections, both through the retail drop off program and at the HHW Facility,” said Whipple.

“Austin’s residents are very green-minded and they want to ‘do the right thing,’” said Whipple. “They want to dispose of materials responsibly, and by partnering with Call2Recycle we can assure them that their rechargeable batteries won’t end up in a landfill.”

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