Chapter 1: Introduction

The city of Austin skyline shines at dusk.
In 2011, Austin’s City Council adopted a Zero Waste Goal that challenges our city to divert 90% of material away from the landfill by 2040. Our work at Austin Resource Recovery (ARR) revolves around meeting this goal, while providing necessary services to keep our community clean.
Reducing the amount of material sent to the landfill is important because landfills produce methane emissions, which contribute to climate change. Less material in the landfill means reduced methane emissions. Source reduction, such as reuse and repair, and diversion pathways like recycling and composting, can also reduce the use of virgin materials in manufacturing and create green jobs, in addition to addressing environmental justice issues often associated with landfills, litter, and illegal dumping.
In this way, the programming ARR provides to individuals and businesses can have environmental, social, and economic impacts that benefit our community.
Conducting this work is not without its difficulties. A spectrum of challenges exists, from the micro to the macro level. Broadly speaking, ARR faces three main challenges. First, Austin’s population has grown more than 20% in the last decade. A growing population increases the number of households ARR serves and requires ARR to educate newcomers about Austin’s recycling, composting, and other diversion practices. Secondly, Austin has experienced multiple abnormal weather episodes in recent years, and as our global climate continues to change, Austin is expected to continue seeing extreme weather episodes. These sorts of weather events can prevent ARR from delivering its services as expected. Finally, Austin’s current waste management landscape does not allow ARR to accurately measure progress toward its Zero Waste Goal. Private companies collect 85% of the waste generated in Austin. Therefore, ARR cannot fully capture the data accompanying this waste stream.
We intend for this plan to help Austin meet these challenges. Through educational programs, ARR aims to inform new and long-time residents about opportunities to divert material and grow Austin into a circular economy where waste is reintegrated into the life cycle of a new product. Recognizing Austin’s densification trend, educational programs and other initiatives will be designed to reach all Austinites, including those in large multifamily apartment buildings that do not receive curbside service from ARR. ARR also acknowledges a need to build and maintain resilient services to be a reliable resource for the community, and the Department will work toward strengthening operational planning for this purpose. Improved insights on our city’s waste stream can be uncovered by updating policies related to the collection of material.
ARR also recognizes the growing disparities across our community. We see the need to apply an equity lens to the programs and services we offer. Throughout this Comprehensive Plan, we provide information on how the Department is putting plans into action to equitably support a diverse Austin.