- Philip Jankowski American-Statesman Staff
A few miles east of Austin, Nick Pacl stands next to a pile of trash, ripping apart plastic bags and dumping food scraps, pizza boxes and other items onto the ground.
Then he starts picking through it. It’s less than a minute before Pacl spots an empty bottle of Touraine wine. His boss, Organics By Gosh CEO Phil Gosh, grabs the offending bit of trash and shakes his head, grimacing. The bottle doesn’t belong in the garbage piles that will eventually become fertile compost.
The site is where the city hopes 38,000 more Austin households will send their banana peels, food scraps and yard trimmings come Oct. 2, when the city will roll out an expansion of Austin Resource Recovery’s curbside composting program.
Officials announced Wednesday which areas of the city will get the green carts this fall for wheeling their compostable materials to the curb. The new service areas are spread throughout the city, largely in areas next to the neighborhoods involved in the first phase of the pilot program.
The city will soon send postcards to homes in the expansion areas with information about open-house events in August and September. Residents can also check to see if their home is included by going to austinrecycles.com.
The expansion will bring the total number of homes served by organics recycling to 52,000, with plans to expand the program to the entire city by 2020. It is a part of a goal to divert 90 percent of trash from landfills by 2040.
Austin residents with curbside trash service currently pay $1 a month for the composting program, whether they have the green bins or not. When the program goes citywide, customers will pay $4 a month for composting, Austin Resource Recovery spokeswoman Memi Cárdenas said.
Austin’s curbside composting program began in a few pockets of the city in 2013 before expanding to 10 neighborhoods encompassing about 14,000 homes. Since the pilot program began, the city has collected more than 15,000 tons of compostable material.
Emlea Chanslor, another spokeswoman for Austin Resource Recovery, said the expansion areas were chosen in part because it would be easier for the department to add service to areas near where it was already sending trucks to pick up compost.
A recent study found that 46 percent of waste collected in Austin could have been composted, said Richard McHale, interim assistant director of Austin Resource Recovery.
The city hopes to avoid some of the pitfalls discovered during the initial phase of the program. They are now allowing the use of certified compostable bags to cut down on the “ick factor” of smelly discarded foodstuffs, McHale said.
“Customers did not just want to throw food into the cart because it would stick to the cart and smell,” McHale said.
The city is also doing away with the 96-gallon green bins that participants found were far too big for their weekly composting needs and took up too much space. The new default size for compost carts is 32 gallons. If residents need a bigger bin, they can request one. And folks in the pilot program with the large bins can downsize if they want.
The matter in those bins is transported to Organics By Gosh on FM 969 near the Texas 130 toll road. There, about 30 employees wade through the garbage, plucking out offending bottles, aluminum cans and other items that would contaminate the fertile final product.
The organic goods are then put through a massive grinder, pushed into piles by bulldozers, sprayed down with water and churned through a trommel screen that separates the larger bits from the smaller bits. Eventually, it’s trucked a little farther down FM 969 to a 27-acre spot where it takes about a year for discarded leftovers to become viable compost, Gosh said.
The City Council approved a three-year contract with Organics by Gosh in June to provide composting services for $1.51 million. The contract could be extended an additional three years, bringing the total cost to a maximum of $4.36 million.
The company also gets to keep whatever money it gets for selling the compost for about $40 a cubic yard, according to the company’s website.