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Despite’s Austin’s "zero-waste" commitment, an advocacy group says that nearly every city park lacks recycling.
An April 2018 handout from the group notes that the city adopted a zero-waste commitment in 2011 requiring businesses and landlords to provide recycling. The city has a goal of reducing trash sent to landfills by 90 percent by 2040.
"Unfortunately," the TCE handout says, the "zero-waste" requirement "does not apply to city government operations" and parks rank among big missed opportunities. "As many as 293 out of 300 parks have no recycling, including almost every neighborhood park," the handout says.
There’s also good news, the handout says, in that the city has launched recycling in every recreation and cultural center and in most of Austin’s biggest parks.
Still, 293 of 300 parks, including nearly every neighborhood park, have no recycling?
By email, Andrew Dobbs, the group’s Central Texas program director, said he based his statement on an April 2018 city staff presentation to Austin’s Parks and Recreation Board.
A slide in the presentation says the city has 300 parks. Two subsequent slides say a pilot program has introduced recycling to Zilker, Town Lake, Walnut Creek, Bull Creek and Ramsay parks plus Walsh Boat Landing. Other slides say recycling also has been added to more than five city swimming pools, five of six city golf courses and two softball complexes.
Dobbs told us the campaign knows of one other park with recycling bins thanks to a neighborhood association. The group’s handout, Dobbs said, says "as many as 293 out of 300" parks have no recycling "because we aren’t 100% certain if other parks might have recycling added on an ad hoc basis."
Records show Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department made the recycling presentation to two city boards.
By phone, we separately confirmed TCE’s count of parks without recycling from Charles Vaclavik, a parks department official, who told us that plans are in motion next to expand recycling mostly along the south side of Lady Bird Lake through Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park.
Vaclavik said Austin’s parks-with-recycling count would be higher if the department had started its pilot recycling program in 2017 by concentrating on small neighborhood parks rather than installing recycling bins in large "metropolitan" parks the city’s jewel, 351-acre Zilker Park.
"We concentrated (instead) on the activity centers that have the most people," Vaclavik said, seeking a "bigger bang for the buck." To date, he said, the recycling pilot has diverted about 35 percent of materials previously destined to move from trash cans to a landfill.
Another factor: The city has yet to budget for recycling in its parks. Liana Kallivoka, the department’s assistant director, told the city’s Zero Waste Advisory Commission at its April 11, 2018, meeting that department officials were drafting a request for $250,000 in recycling-specific funding in the next city budget.
If approved by the Austin City Council, Kallivoka said, the money would fund a program coordinator and hundreds of pairs of waste-recycling receptacles with tops, which run $1,100 each, to follow on 150 pairs already installed in park facilities and outdoors. Shelley Parks, a city spokeswoman, told us by phone that the cost of the installed bins was covered largely by donors including the Austin Parks Foundation, the Trail Foundation, neighborhood associations and the office of City Council Member Alison Alter, who represents District 10.
Generally, Kallivoka told the commission, the department’s goal is to extend recycling to all parks and facilities in three phases wrapping up with the addition of recycling to neighborhood parks.
Commission members approved a resolution calling for the city to create a Parks & Recreation Recycling Task Force. The resolution says, in part, that "approximately 4 of 300 City of Austin parks and 14 of 51 City of Austin aquatic facilities currently provide recycling opportunities." Austin’s Parks and Recreation Board voted to urge creation of the same task force at its April 24, 2018, meeting.
Dobbs also spoke to the commission, saying: "The good news is that we’re at a point where everybody wants to do this."
TCE’s handout says that most of Austin’s biggest parks have recycling though as "many as 293 out of 300" Austin city "parks have no recycling, including almost every neighborhood park."
City figures support this analysis. The city hasn’t funded a parks recycling program.
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Handout, Texas Campaign for the Environment, April 2018 (document received by email from Andrew Dobbs, Central Texas program director, legislative director, Texas Campaign for the Environment, May 23, 2018)
Emails, Andrew Dobbs, Central Texas program director, legislative director, Texas Campaign for the Environment, May 23 and June 5, 2018
Phone interviews, Charles Vaclavik, manager, operations and maintenance, City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department, May 30 and June 5, 2018
Video, "Consideration of new resolution: Recycling and Composting in Parks – Discussion/Action on the implementation of recycling and composting at City of Austin Parks and Recreation Facilities," City of Austin, Zero Waste Advisory Commission, April 11, 2018
Resolution recommending Austin City Council action to expand recycling and waste diversion to all Austin parks and City of Austin recreation facilities, approved by Zero Waste Advisory Commission, April 11, 2018
Resolution recommending Austin City Council action to expand recycling and waste diversion to all Austin parks and City of Austin recreation facilities, approved by Parks and Recreation Board, April 24, 2018
Phone interview, Shelley Parks, acting manager, Marketing and Communications Unit, Austin Parks and Recreation Department, June 8, 2018
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