Austin should tighten restrictions for convenient access to recycling

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As part of Austin’s goal to reach zero waste by 2040, Austin’s Universal Recycling Ordinance claims that by 2017, all Austin tenants and employees will have convenient access to recycling. The city will implement the ordinance over the course of five years, and as of Oct. 1 of this year,  multifamily properties with at least 25 units are required to provide convenient access to recycling.   

In Austin, one of the largest and most concentrated areas containing multifamily properties is West Campus. The area west of Guadalupe Street is peppered with a plethora of apartment buildings, and a good number of the complexes each contain well over 25 units. By law, convenient access to recycling must be provided for these complexes. Even if the buildings do follow the city’s standards for “convenient access” in some capacity, however, it is safe to say that recycling in many areas of West Campus is by no means convenient. Further, recycling will hardly be any more convenient by the ordinance’s end goal of 2017 — the difference then will be that all multifamily properties, regardless of size, will be required to provide so-called convenient access under the same conditions.   

According to the ordinance, convenient access is achieved when property owners abide by a few stipulations. Ironically, some of these seem to cause more problems for students. First, each recycling bin must be no more than 25 feet from other garbage collection bins. Second, the recycling service capacity must equal at least 6.4 gallons per dwelling per week — for example, if a complex has 50 units, its recycling bins must be able to hold 320 gallons of recyclable material. Lastly, each property must submit a Recycling Plan form to the city each year, but the property can request a waiver or alternative compliance request. On that note, the ordinance seems to contain a very large loophole, as the conditions of obtaining a waiver are not listed in the ordinance.   

For many buildings in West Campus, such as some Quarters on Campus properties, the 25-foot rule means that recycling requires going outdoors — trash bins are, for the most part, located outside, and recycling bins are thus placed outside as well, but farther away. This can often mean walking far through an alleyway to dispose of recycling, which could be enough to deter many students from recycling as frequently as the city wants. As for bin size, recycling bins in West Campus often appear small and are filled quickly, requiring students to walk even farther to use other buildings’ recycling bins instead. For students who don’t have the extra time, or who may not even know where their bin is located, recycling in West Campus is largely inconvenient.  

For a city that prides itself on being green, Austin should be doing more to ensure that the recycling ordinance is more convenient and therefore effective. In other progressive cities, such as Portland, recycling is required for all multifamily properties with the main stipulation being that recycling must be “as convenient as garbage.” If Austin followed this same rule, recycling would be much easier, and more importantly, these loopholes — where complexes legally provide recycling, but not accessibly — could be avoided.       

For an area as densely populated as West Campus, it is vital that recycling is made more accessible to residents. We strongly urge the city to tighten recycling restrictions for multifamily properties, and in turn, Austin may get closer to accomplishing its zero waste goal in the process.