food waste colorful

How Texas Disposal Systems is Helping Austin Meet Its Organics Recycling Goals

TDS is helping food-permitted facilities establish organics diversion programs to comply with Austin's new Universal Recycling Ordinance Organics Diversion.

Food waste management has been a growing trend as of late. And supermarkets, restaurants, nonprofit leaders, waste and recycling industry leaders and sports teams across the globe are rolling out innovative programs to help combat the ongoing issue of food waste.

In October, the City of Austin implemented the Universal Recycling Ordinance Organics Diversion, the second stage of the Universal Recycling Ordinance that requires all food-permitted facilities 15,000 sq. ft. or larger to establish programs to divert organic material from landfill. To help these facilities comply with the new ordinance, Austin-based Texas Disposal Systems (TDS)—one of the largest independently owned solid waste collection and disposal companies in North America—is providing waste audits, educational services and organics collection services.

For TDS, this preparation process is similar to what it did when the first stage of the Universal Recycling Ordinance rolled out in 2013: explain the ordinance and what it means to each customer and help them develop strategic plans to comply.

“First, we go into the facilities and do a detailed waste audit to see which materials they are throwing away and how much of their waste is organic waste,” says Texas Disposal Services Director of Sales Rick Fraumann. “For restaurants and other foodservice businesses, there is a lot of food waste that is created during food prep and at the end of the day when food is left over from service. One option for these facilities is to donate the wasted food to food banks, and another option is to divert the food waste from landfill through organics collection services.”

Once the facilities have weighed their options and chosen their preferred organics diversion process, the next step is to educate employees and customers to ensure that food waste is properly diverted from landfill.

“There are a lot of customers who come into establishments, order food and throw away what they don’t eat, but with this new ordinance, facilities need to display proper signage, bins and labels so that customers are aware of the ordinance and what can and cannot be recycled or composted,” says Fraumann. “Years ago, facilities just had a trash bin. And more recently, facilities have added a recycling bin in addition to the trash bin. Now, facilities are adding a third bin to the mix for organics. If customers and employees aren’t properly educated on what these bins are and what can go in them, facilities will have a hard time properly diverting organics and recyclables from landfill.”

To begin the education process, TDS suggests appointing a couple team members who have shown interest in organics diversion. Since TDS cannot be onsite every day at every facility, this process allows a point person onsite at all times to lead diversion efforts and ensure that facilities are following the organics diversion process and complying with the ordinance. In addition to that effort, creating informative newsletters and signage can help educate employees and customers, Fraumann adds.

Complying with the Ordinance

The first stage of the Universal Recycling Ordinance, which requires property owners to add recycling to properties, is slated to be complete by October 1, 2017. In the first stage, property owners were charged with providing recycling for plastics #1 and #2, paper, cardboard, glass and aluminum; place recycling containers within 25 feet of all garbage containers; display signage in both English and Spanish that showcases recyclable materials accepted; educate new employees and tenants about the recycling ordinance within 30 days of hire or move-in and annually thereafter; and submit an annual diversion plan.

The Universal Recycling Ordinance Organics Diversion, which will be extended to food-permitted facilities 5,000 sq. ft. or larger on October 1, 2017, and to all food-permitted facilities on October 1, 2018, requires businesses with foodservice components to submit an annual online organics diversion plan; reduce or divert organic material generated onsite on a weekly basis; display informational signs in both English and Spanish, or an additional language; educate employees about the organics diversion program both annually and within 30 days of hire; and place exterior organics collection receptacles within 25 feet of garbage containers.

To help facilities get started, the City of Austin is offering a $1,800 rebate for facilities that aren’t yet affected by the ordinance but start or expand recycling, composting or donation services.

“One of the important things we want to stress is that property owners and businesses don’t need to wait until they are affected by the ordinance to start their recycling or organics efforts,” says Fraumann. “They should start now because many employees and customers are looking for companies that have strong recycling and composting programs. At TDS, we are here to help businesses and property owners get a head start on their recycling and organics diversion efforts.”

Getting Customers On Board

TDS has a wide range of customers, including Dell Diamond, the home stadium of the Round Rock Express AAA minor league baseball affiliate of the Texas Rangers major league baseball team. About five years ago, TDS began working with Dell Diamond on its waste and recycling efforts. At that time, Dell Diamond didn’t have a recycling system in place. To get the stadium up to speed, TDS helped Dell Diamond roll out recycling and composting programs. 

“From adding recycling and composting bins to helping Dell Diamond work with its food vendor to replace non-compostable items with compostable items, we helped the stadium take all the proper measures to boost its diversion rate,” says Fraumann. “For example, the stadium used to serve hot dogs wrapped in foil from a warmer, but now the hot dogs are served fresh off the grill in compostable boats with fiber wrappers.”

TDS also worked closely with Dell Diamond to adjust its onsite waste processing space to include two docks and three waste streams instead of one dock and one waste stream. Additionally, TDS helped the stadium get a compactor that splits recycling and composting materials, making it easier for waste to be sorted onsite to be hauled away.

In addition to those efforts, TDS continues to help Dell Diamond with education and signage to help customers avoid the “recycling dance.” The recycling dance is when consumers approach the waste, recycling and composting bins and shift around to try to figure out the proper place to dispose of their waste.

“We worked with Dell Diamond to create clear, easy-to-read signage to help prevent the recycling dance,” says Fraumann. “Currently, the stadium diverts about 50 percent of its waste from landfill, and we are working with Dell Diamond to help increase that rate.”

Another one of TDS’ large customers is the Austin Independent School District (AISD), which includes approximately 83,593 students at 130 schools. About six years ago, TDS approached AISD with a pilot program idea that would add recycling in every classroom and composting in cafeterias. After receiving some feedback from parents and school administrators, TDS and AISD decided to launch the pilot program in the district’s elementary schools.

“We received a really strong acceptance when we went into the elementary schools to implement the program. The pilot program lasted from mid-January to the end of the school year in June, and during that time, we received positive feedback from school administrators, parents and students,” comments Fraumann. “Since then, we have expanded the program within AISD and beyond. We now have 172 schools and 104,872 students participating in the program, and we are continuing to expand the program to middle schools and high schools over the next year or two.”

Additionally, TDS works with the Austin City Limits music festival, and Circuit of The Americas Formula 1 race to ensure that proper waste, recycling and organic measures are in place.

Managing Recycling and Composting in a Rural State

While managing recycling and composting in a rural state may seem like a challenge, TDS has an operational model that helps make the process a little easier. TDS expands across approximately 2,500 acres and includes a landfill, a materials recovery facility (MRF) and a composting facility all within a short distance of each other. By having all of the facilities located close to each other, TDS is able to quickly and accurately manage its collected materials.

“We have all of the facilities that we need here at our Austin headquarters, and we invest in the facilities specifically to lengthen the life of our landfill,” says Fraumann. “The owners of TDS have a long-term view and approach to handling the material and the more we can divert from our facilities, the better our facilities are.”

In addition to having easy access to all of its facilities, TDS uses its compost material to create bags of compost and mulch in bulk to sell to residents to put on their lawns.

“Through our education efforts, we also donate a lot of the compost and finished product to schools and community gardens so they can grow vegetables or plant trees,” comments Fraumann. “We also partner with Keep Austin Beautiful on a lot of projects that it may need compost and soil for.”

TDS also has a green builder program where builders can work with TDS to properly dispose of lumber or leftover debris. As part of this program, TDS has partnered with Habitat for Humanity to divert material from landfill and to provide compost for its gardens.

As far as new projects go, TDS is working hand-in-hand with Austin–Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA) to launch a pilot composting program beginning in mid-December. To help prep for the pilot program, ABIA recently underwent a detailed waste audit to help determine how much food waste is generated onsite.

“With the waste audit and pilot program, we have two goals: find out how much material we can collect and divert and figure out how we can get that material from our facility to a composting facility,” says Austin–Bergstrom International Airport Environmental Services Manager Kane Carpenter. “This pilot program is really exciting for us, and we are eager to get started.”

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