Austin Resource

Photo Credit: Joe Capraro | Daily Texan Staff

The next phase of a recycling ordinance passed by the Austin City Council will require more businesses and multi-family dwellings to offer recycling services.

The Universal Recycling Ordinance, which the council passed in October 2012, will require nearly every commercial and multi-family dwelling to offer recycling services, Lauren Hammond, senior public information specialist for Austin Resource Recovery, said.

“[The ordinance] will help Austin reach its Zero Waste goal to reduce the amount of trash sent to the landfill by 90 percent by 2040,” Hammond said. “These requirements help provide everyone in Austin with access to recycling where they live and where they work.”

According to Hammond, multi-family dwellings with 50 units or more and businesses with 75,000 square feet or more will have to offer these recycling services. In total, 680 apartments and 270 commercial office buildings will be affected. 

“The city will not necessarily provide the recycling services,” Hammond said. “These businesses have the option of choosing from a number of private companies.” 

The cost of recycling will differ for different businesses based on the location, type of materials and type of facility or business. Hammond said she hopes potentially decreased costs incurred by landfill disposal fees and frequent trash collections will incentivize businesses to embrace recycling programs.

Chelsea Kneblik, property manager of 21 Rio, said the apartment complex has always offered recycling bins for residents to use. Kneblik said she received information from the city of Austin about the new regulations but has not looked into them more closely. Kneblik said the new regulations increasing the minimum number of materials recycled from three to five will likely not make a huge difference to the complex or its residents.

Hammond said business managers and property owners have been cooperative so far and have already implemented or are working on implementing the ordinance. She said Austin offers free education and outreach, lunch-and-learn sessions and on-site assessment services available to help businesses adopt the measures more efficiently.

Regardless, even though the ordinance mandates recycling become available, residents may not feel they have convenient access to it. Bryan Henson, leasing manager for The Quarters on Campus, said The Quarters has always offered recycling bins on the property. Even so, Leila Ruiz, a Middle Eastern studies sophomore, said that she has been disappointed with the lack of access to recycling at The Quarters at Nueces. Ruiz said she contacted Quarters management in August about offering a recycling service, but her calls were not returned.

“A lot of people want to recycle but because it’s not available, they have to go above and beyond to recycle,” Ruiz said. “Basically, if I want to recycle, I have to let my recyclables accumulate in my room until there are enough to put into big bags … I walk about a quarter of a mile to recycle.”

Correction: In the original version of this article a reporting error was made. The type of multi family dwellings impacted by the ordinance was incorrectly reported as dwellings with 75 units or more, and the type of businesses affected was incorrectly reported as those with 100,000 or more square feet.

As March draws to a close, the city of Austin can reflect on its first month without single-use bags. Working at a local grocery store through it all has proved to be much like a bad “Portlandia” skit, as customer after customer apprehensively asks how I can bag their groceries. Ardent opponents of the ordinance spout caveats of socialist takeover while the silent majority kindly hand over their reusable bags. All things considered, I think Austin is going to survive the “bag ban” just fine — and we have every reason to try.

The single-use bag ordinance is a small step towards Austin’s Zero Waste Plan goal of diverting 95 percent of our trash from landfills by the year 2040. While the city of Austin doesn’t seem to be making too much of a fuss, we are geographically bound to the state of Texas, which is home to many who feel differently about the ordinance.

Texas Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, is serving as the voice for Texas’ dissenting opinion, claiming the ordinance is just another example of “an attempt to push forward a misguided nanny-state agenda.” Springer has formalized his opposition in the form of the “Shopping Bag Freedom Act,” legislation, which he introduced with the intent of overturning Austin’s new ordinance as soon as possible. In short, a state representative from a North Texas town of 1,500 is trying to overturn Austin’s local ordinance on the grounds that it is governmental overreach.

The irony of that statement aside, it is our right to be given bags, right? This is a matter of American freedom. But Andrew Dobbs, program director for the Texas Campaign for the Environment, doesn’t see it that way.

“I have a right to a community that’s safe, clean, and healthy,” Dobbs said. “We have shopped at markets for 3-4,000 years as a series of civilizations, and it’s only in the last 30-40 years that we’ve had an expectation that we’ll get a single-use bag for free. Our founding fathers were expected to bring containers for their goods, and we can, too.”

Our insistence on convenience has allowed us to create an illusion of necessity, and this illusion is so well-established that something as minute as what our groceries are put into has turned into a hotly-contested policy debate. This ordinance could be perceived in many more productive ways than as a deprivation of freedom. Though it may be small, it is by all accounts a step in the right direction.

The quantifiable possible effects of single-use bags on a city are considerable. According to research done by Austin Resource Recovery, the stream of single-use bags is costing the city approximately $800,000 annually through litter cleanup and landfill costs alone. Paper bag production requires relatively large amounts of water that Texas does not have to spare, assuming the bags are not being imported from abroad. According to Dobbs, however, this ordinance means more than what can be translated into dollars and cents.

“It’s significant as a symbol of commitment to our community,” Dobbs said with pride. “It’s moving beyond a disposable culture towards a culture of responsibility for our resources.”

Environmental pride is the key to “surviving” this ordinance, and the many more to come. Businesses like Buffalo Exchange on Guadalupe and 29th share this pride, and have had a reward system in place for customers who want to abstain from using a bag since long before the ordinance. If customers chose not to use a single-use bag to carry home their purchases, they were given a token to donate to an environmental cause of their choice. Now that they have no bags of any kind, patrons simply receive a token at the end of every transaction.

Single-use bags make up less than 2 percent of the waste stream in Austin, which leaves room for much environmental improvement. There is no “nanny state agenda” behind these modifications, just a city that wants to start cleaning up after itself. These small adjustments will soon become just as much of a habit as single-use bags were, and we, as a community, can move onto bigger and greener things.

Cathey is a journalism sophomore from Dripping Springs.

Photo Credit: Olivia Kwong | Daily Texan Staff

Students who forgetfully stash collections of reusable grocery bags in closets and car trunks will actually need to remember to bring their bags into stores starting Friday, when a city-wide ordinance banning single-use plastic bags in retail stores takes effect.

The ordinance, passed by City Council in March 2012, mandates retail stores in the city to stop handing out single-use plastic bags to encourage the reuse of bags. Exemptions to the ordinance include such items as restaurant take-out bags and bags for bulk items, produce, alcohol and medicine. 

Courtney Black, public information specialist for Austin Resource Recovery, said the city’s goal is to reduce 90 percent of waste in landfills by the year 2040.

“We’ve been doing a significant amount of outreach over the last year in the hopes that when the March 1 date lands it’ll be a smooth transition,” Black said. “Basically, our biggest message to consumers is to remember their reusable bags, but not to worry if they forget.”

Establishments can apply for certain types of exemptions based on their business practices. Black said grocery retailer H-E-B has been approved for an emergency access exemption, allowing them to sell single-use bags at $1 per transaction to customers who forget to bring their bags.

Hunter Mangrum, environmental specialist for UT’s Division of Housing and Food Service, said DHFS has been sourcing biodegradable bags for on-campus convenience stores since at least 2006. Although DHFS is not required to abide by city ordinance, Mangrum said they are committed to promoting their eco-friendly practices to students.

“As far as DHFS goes, we’re technically in compliance with the bag ban no matter what, because there isn’t a stipulation in any ordinance about biodegradable bags,” Mangrum said. “We do also sell a reusable bag that we promote and you can get discounts for using at our locations.”

Mangrum said though he does not foresee the transition going over smoothly, changing routines is a key part of the process.

“It’s going to affect behavior,” Mangrum said. “That’s what we’re really trying to do in this field, is trying to get people to approach their daily tasks differently so we can affect the world we live in.” 

Cary Rabb, president of Wag-A-Bag Convenience Stores, said he is concerned about how the bag ban will affect business. The chain opened in Round Rock in 1964. They will be charging customers 18 cents more per transaction for reusable plastic bags. Rabb said if larger retailers receive exemptions, it disadvantages other businesses.  

“We also hear that our largest grocery retailer in Austin is exempt for a year, which is very frustrating,” Rabb said. “[It] seems like the ordinance should apply to all, because the customer will be confused when they shop with us versus another retailer who may be exempt. Other than that, we are prepared for Friday but concerned as well.”

Melissa Broaddus, mechanical engineering freshman, said she doesn’t see the ban having a large effect on the city’s waste problem, but carrying reusable bags won’t be an inconvenience.

“I don’t think it’s going to be that big of an effect,” Broaddus said. “Plastic bags aren’t a huge part of the waste, there’s a lot of other things that are going to contribute to that, so if you’re going to reduce it you’re going to have to reduce other things, too.”