Special Report: Recycling
Austin Materials Marketplace Helps Businesses Find Value in Discarded Materials

Austin Materials Marketplace Helps Businesses Find Value in Discarded Materials

Since August 2014, Austin Resource Recovery has contracted with the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD) and Ecology Action of Texas to run the Austin Materials Marketplace. The program brings together businesses of all sizes, organizations and entrepreneurs in the City of Austin and Travis County to create closed-loop systems in which one company’s waste is another company’s raw material.

The program takes a simplified and accessible approach to finding and implementing materials reuse opportunities:

1. Participating businesses post materials available and/or materials they may be able to use into an online database. This step may also include site visits from the project team to help find and understand the true depth of what’s available.

2. The U.S. BCSD and Ecology Action sort through the data and identify potential matches with other program participants. If no matches can be identified, this process helps inform their active outreach strategy to bring new materials users into the program. Participants are also called together for a number of networking events and working meetings to work through ideas and build relationships in person.

3. Once a match has been identified, the team will help facilitate the exchange between the two parties, and do a lifecycle assessment to determine the total environmental benefit.

The program has taken off since it launched in August 2014. There are 84 active businesses and organizations including large businesses such as 3M and General Motors and small startups such as Granite Recyclers Austin. All of Austin’s large academic institutions are also involved.

Here are a few examples from the program to present how this closed-loop system works.

Reusing Recycling Bins

3M had 750 gently used desk-side recycling bins available in the marketplace. The State of Texas Alliance for Recycling (STAR) has a fantastic bin grant program, which donates recycling bins to schools across Texas that are trying to start their own recycling programs. STAR was able to make use of the recycling bins right away. This was an obvious match! Total Value: about $5,250

Business Furniture 

Business furniture is a very popular material in the program. The program has diverted 614 cubic yards of business furniture and fixtures from offices and office storage rooms, including a General Motors call center and a large Austin non-profit undergoing an office remodel. Total Value: more than $28,512

Granite Scrap 

The program team estimates granite companies in the Austin area produce about 15,000 tons/year of granite scrap byproduct. Much of this scrap ends up in the local landfill. Granite Recyclers Austin is a new business that takes this scrap and turns it into a range of new products. As their production scales up, the program team will continue to help this startup source granite scrap and anticipates their operations will make a substantial impact on the amount of granite scrap sent to the landfill.

Looking toward the future, I see the Austin Materials Marketplace playing an integral role in attracting and developing new businesses fueled by discarded materials from others. Signs seem to show that there’s a new generation that’s willing and able to pick up the torch. The program team recently worked with a group of students from the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders as they designed, conducted market research, prepared business plans, and built new products using materials available exclusively available in the marketplace program.

Learn more about the Austin Materials Marketplace.

Bob Gedert is director of the Austin Resource Recovery Department (formerly the Solid Waste Services Department) for the Texas capital. He is responsible for a 400-employee operation that provides services to Austin citizens, including trash, recycling,  yard trimmings collection, street sweeping, litter and dead animal pickup, household hazardous waste and the implementation of the Austin Zero Waste Plan. Previously, Gedert operated the residential and commercial recycling service for the city of Fresno (Calif.) Department of Public Utilities. He has been involved with recycling and waste reduction programs since 1975.

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