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City of Austin expands curbside organics collection pilot program

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In December 2012, the City of Austin initiated a pilot program through which organic waste materials would be collected in curbside collection bins and transported to a partner facility (Organics by Gosh) where they would then be composted. The initial phase of this program included about 8000 homes in various areas of Austin.

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The second phase of the pilot is being introduced this month with about 6000 new homes included. The areas of the city selected for the program are based on demographics and with the intention of including each day of the week, Monday through Friday, for collection. A map of both Phase 1 and Phase 2 neighborhoods can be found on the city website.

Beginning Monday, February 10 city staff are offering presentations to residents in each chosen area with the purpose of introducing them to the program and answering any questions they may have. These presentations will continue this week (based on your normal trash collection day) at a location within the new participating neighborhoods. Residents that live in these areas were sent a postcard with details of their local meeting.

Last night's meeting was held at Covington Middle School in South Austin and drew approximately 40 residents. A guide book, that will also be included in each new collection bin, was handed out along with a small plastic container that you can collect your scraps and other small items in. After a very informative visual presentation, city staff welcomed questions from the audience.

Each home in the neighborhood will be given a 96 gallon bin with delivery of those beginning Monday, February 17. Collection of compostable materials will begin the week of February 24 on your normal trash day. Although recycling is on a bi-weekly basis, the compost bins will be emptied weekly along with your trash.

The purpose of this program is to move closer to the city's goal of zero waste by 2040. At least half of materials which end up in landfills can be composted. Composting these materials would not only reduce the size of landfills but would also lower the amount of greenhouse gases that they produce.

Residents are not required to participate in the pilot (and it does not cost to do so) but obviously the greater the number that do not only help to reduce the amount of trash ending up in landfills but also assist the city in assessing the program. Another incentive in participating is financial. When you divert a large amount of your trash into recycling and composting you will be able to reduce the size of your trash bin which you pay for based on capacity. Downsizing from a 96 gallon bin to a 32 gallon will save you over $225 a year!

Even if you already compost at home, you can still take advantage of this program. Backyard composting systems do not generate enough heat to adequately break down items such as bones. It is also not a good idea to put dairy and meat in a home system as they attract unwanted animal intruders. The new city program allows you to place these types of items in your bin as they are taken to a commercially sized facility that does generate enough heat for them to biodegrade efficiently.

Another advantage to the new program is they will accept items that you cannot recycle such as food soiled paper and cardboard (pizza boxes and paper towels for example). You can also place yard trimmings, cotton balls and vacuum cleaner bags, among many other items, in your new bin. Just remember "If it grows...it goes".

The city website contains more information about curbside organic collection and even includes how-to videos. The site is very well organized and well presented. If you are lucky enough to participate in this program check out the website and happy composting!

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