While Austin rolls out the next phase of their neighborhood composting program, Cedar Park officials and residents are considering adopting zero-waste initiatives and policies.
While no action was taken by the City Council at their Sept. 28 meeting, Councilwoman Heather Jefts said the first step toward getting a zero waste or high diversion program started would be declaring it an official priority.
Before looking into proposing any formal policy, the council agreed to look and research best practices, cost implications and gather more information on options while observing surrounding cities’ policies.
“I read a study that said 80 percent of what goes into landfills can be recycled, reused or repurposed,” Jefts said. “Step one, we will have to make it a priority and reduce our footprint and find sustainable practices for our city. If we want to talk about the nitty gritty, that’s after we decide it’s a priority.”
The 2015 study, led by Austin Resource Recovery, found that more than 80 percent of materials in the Austin community’s trash could have been recycled or composted. Composting programs collect food scraps, yard trimmings and food soiled paper, and decomposes them in piles of organic material, which converts into nutrient-rich compost.
While the term “zero-waste” is popularly used, “high-diversion” is more accurate, meaning a majority percent of discarded materials will be either recycled or composted and not sent to landfills, said Andrew Dobbs, program director with Texas Campaign for the Environment.
If such a policy is adopted by Cedar Park, they would be the first suburban city in Texas to do so, Dobbs said. About 3,500 residents in Cedar Park are registered members with the Texas Campaign for the Environment, and have expressed support in implementing diversion policy.
“Success to us is an ambitious goal and steady progress,” Dobbs said. “That’s all we can ask for. That’s what good, smart communities are doing, and if residents of Cedar Park and the city council set those ambitious goals, they will be the leaders.”
Cedar Park currently does not have a compost program for brush and yard clippings, which are being sent to landfill. The nutrient-rich soil product that would come from composting could be sold by the city to landscaping vendors and create revenue if a program were adopted, Dobbs said.
However, while many residents have written letters of support for zero-waste initiatives to Councilman Corbin Van Arsdale, he said some Cedar Park residents are wary of what such policies could mean, fearing city mandates and fines and stating “don’t ‘Austin’ my Cedar Park.”
“This topic isn’t being neglected in the city, and we are taking a look at it,” said Mayor Pro-Tem Kristyne Bollier. “I think the prudent thing to do is to have a little bit more information before we make any definitive statement."
At the meeting, Jefts discussed potential 5 and 15 year plans with three phases of implementation. Phase one could include smaller trash cans available at a lower cost, where there’s incentive to put less in the trash and more in the recycling. Jefts also proposed the idea of a community tool plan and moving hazard waste collection to quarterly rather than bi-annually to avoid toxic waste in landfills.
“I think we should have mandatory recycling for businesses, or at least make that available to them,” Jefts said. “These are options we could really start putting forward that would be a minimal cost compared to the amount of waste we could divert and the amount of help we could provide to the community and the environment.”
Elle Albert, 10 year Cedar Park resident, said she thought it was great the city is starting a dialogue.
“There is a want to reduce waste,” she said. “It’s the how do we do it and how much effort do you put into it. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done and analysis to understand the implications, and I’m excited to see the passionate responses.”