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Since 2021, the City of Austin has provided curbside composting service to residents who live in single-family homes, duplexes, triplexes, and many fourplexes. Still, people living in multifamily dwellings like apartment complexes have been largely left out. That’s because the current Universal Recycling Ordinance (URO), which requires multifamily properties to provide recycling service, doesn’t require composting.
A URO update could soon fix a considerable gap in waste management policy that also happens to help Austin do its part to fight climate change.
Gardeners have long embraced composting to return valuable nutrients to the soil, but it has new importance in the accelerating climate crisis. When organic materials, such as food, plants, wood, paper, and cardboard decompose in a landfill, they do so without oxygen, and that anaerobic decomposition creates methane gas. While methane doesn’t last as long as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, pound for pound, it warms the planet 86 times more over 20 years. Scientists have sounded the alarm that an immediate and significant reduction of methane emissions is needed to rein in climate change.
Composting is part of the solution. When it’s done right – with frequent turning to aerate the piles – composting is an aerobic process that minimizes methane production.
In Austin, private companies contracted by property managers provide multifamily property waste management services. The proposed ordinance update would require those properties to include composting collection services that would accept the same items that Austin Resource Recovery (ARR) – a city department – collects from single-family homes, duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes. As with recycling collection at multifamily properties, compost collection containers will be placed near trash containers for the convenience of residents. Properties would be required to provide sufficient collection capacity to avoid overflowing containers and will be responsible for explaining the benefits of composting to residents. ARR for its part will work with property owners on any questions or concerns, and fines for noncompliance won’t begin until one year after the effective date of the ordinance update.
This proposed change results from a series of public stakeholder meetings over several years after an ARR multifamily composting pilot program was conducted with the city’s Zero Waste Advisory Commission’s guidance. The pilot provided two important determinations: there is a significant desire for composting at multifamily properties and its cost will be minimal.
The URO update means equitable access to composting and progress toward meeting Austin’s Zero Waste and Climate Equity Plan goals.
The Zero Waste Advisory Commission endorsed the draft ordinance at its August 9 meeting. The Austin City Council will next consider the ordinance on September 21.