Recycle or trash? Study finds Austin’s recycling rules confusing

Recycling load from sampling (Courtesy: COA)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austinites are confused when it comes to recycling. That’s the findings from a new study conducted by Austin’s Resource Recovery.

“We found the recycling rules in Austin are so confusing that almost nobody does it perfectly. Even the most advanced recyclers have questions,” says Katherine Duong, Design, Technology and Innovation Fellow for the City of Austin.

With a goal of zero waste by 2040 and the diversion from the landfill becoming stagnant, city leaders wanted change. A seven month study conducted inside the homes of 76 Austinites discovered residents are either not interested in recycling or don’t know what can really go into the big blue bins. In an effort to change that, 160 solutions were created and just six were put to the test.

Researchers found a sorting guide that lists what can be put into the compost, recycling, landfill or donation bins helped. They also tested a dual trash recycling bin for those living in a smaller space like an apartment. That bin could be available through a voucher program within the next year.

The results found there was a lot of confusion about what plastics or paper can be recycled. Because many products have mixed materials like butcher’s paper, which is made of paper and a waxy surface, it cannot be recycled. The same goes for items like milk cartons and chip bags. Paper that might be dirty, like a used paper coffee cup, can also not be recycled because bacteria can grow on the surface of the paper.

The findings from the study will change the way city leaders try and target residents to recycle.

“This has really changed how we think in our department and it’s going to change how we do our outreach and so it’s going to be a completely different conversation,” says Ron Newmond, Austin’s Waste Diversion Planner with Program Development.

All of the findings will be released during a meeting at the Carver Library Monday from 6:30 p.m. until 8 p.m.

For residents waiting for their new curbside composting bin, the wait might be longer. The city has delayed the summertime expansion because of contract negotiations. The program is expected to expand by the fall. A city council work group has been formed to give recommendations to council on June 1.

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