Austin businesses face fines if food waste not reduced

Recycling load from sampling (Courtesy: COA)
Recycling load from sampling (Courtesy: COA)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Resource Recovery is presenting information Wednesday to make sure large restaurants, hotels, food distribution centers, convention centers and grocery stores understand the upcoming requirements for recycling organics. The goal is to reduce food waste and keep organic materials out of landfills, so that businesses comply with the city’s Universal Recycling Ordinance. The URO is a set of standards to help get Austin to “Zero Waste” by 2040.

Aiden Cohen with Austin Resource Recovery describes organics as anything that grows, or once grew.

“So it can be pizza boxes with grease,” Cohen said. “It can be your ends of your tomatoes or your carrots. It can be bones, meats and cheeses.”

Instead of throwing extra food away, it’s most preferred that businesses reduce their excess in the first place, which may include more strategic ordering or menu alteration. The next best pathway is to send clean, temperature-controlled food to local food banks like the Central Texas Food Bank or Feeding Texas. After that, local farms are a great option. Leftover vegetables and grains can help feed area chickens, cows and pigs and could keep farmers’ costs down. If the food is no longer edible, composting is the best route.

Organic diversion can not only keep up to 63,000 tons of extra waste out of Austin’s landfills every year, but food diverted to hungry people can help cut down on food insecurity, which affects 50 million people in the U.S. Organic materials left in landfills can contribute to methane gas as they decompose, creating air pollution and contributing to more Ozone Action Days in this area.

Businesses will be affected in waves. On October 1, 2016, food businesses that are 15,000 square feet or larger will need to form a plan to comply by February 1 of next year. On October 1, 2017, smaller restaurants and hotels 5,000 square feet or larger need to form their own plans for organics diversion. Finally, on October 1, 2018 all food businesses will have to satisfy the requirements of the URO.

Here are the minimum requirements for large food businesses in the coming weeks:

  • Online submission of an Organics Diversion Plan (due by Feb. 1 each year)
  • Reduce or divert organic material generated onsite, on a weekly basis
  • Post informational signs in both English and Spanish, or an additional language
  • Educate employees about the organics diversion program annually and within 30 days of hire
  • Place exterior organics collection receptacles within 25 feet of landfill trash containers

Failure to comply with these guidelines could eventually result in a fine from the Austin Code Department.

Susanne Harm with Austin Resource Recovery says that more informational meetings will take place over the next few weeks, and that large food businesses should already be seeing mailers.

“And if you open up the mailer, it’s a poster that they can use at their business can use right away, to kinda start educating their staff and their team about what can be recycled, what can be composted at their business,” said Harm. She’ll use a similar effort on smaller businesses next year.

There will be about 1500 small food businesses to contact, which will be a larger effort than the 250-300 large businesses the center is dealing with now. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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