A Plan to Plan for a Zero-Waste City

Leadership will determine the success of long-range strategy

Rick Cofer
Rick Cofer

Get ready for another acronym: The city of Austin has started the public consultation process on the Integrated Solid Waste Management Master Plan (or ISWMMP for short). At its simplest level, it aims to turn the city's Zero-Waste Plan into a 50-year strategy to ensure an environmental underpinning for investment and policy, from green building standards for all city-owned facilities to establishing citywide composting programs. Jessica Kingpetcha­rat-Bittner, sustainability administrator for Solid Waste Ser­vices, called this round of public meetings "the preplanning phase," giving the city a clearer idea of what really matters to stakeholders. She said, "If a topic creates a lot of discussion, then we'll probably have to look at it a lot more."

It's a balancing act: For example, if the city reaches its recycling targets (20% of trash diverted by 2012, 75% by 2020, and 90% by 2040), the extra trucking may increase pollution, but that's the argument for taking a broad and long-term approach to planning now. Solid Waste Advisory Commission Vice Chair Rick Cofer said, "Fifty years is a long time, but I'd rather be overprepared than underprepared." Solid Waste Services has previously been accused of lacking vision, but with this master plan, the hiring of a new department director, and the city considering building its own materials recovery facility, this is the perfect time for setting policy, Cofer said, adding, "Those three things are all urgent, and they're all going to happen in the next six to 12 months."

At the preliminary planning meeting held July 22, questioning centered on the search for a replacement for former SWS Director Willie Rhodes. Austin EcoNetwork founder and former Austin Climate Protection Plan steering committee member Brandi Clark called the appointment pivotal to the department's direction on the long-range plan. "No matter what plan is written down," she said, "it's going to come to leadership and having the right person who really has it in their heart to achieve a zero-waste goal."

Cofer also argues that the plan can't simply find better ways to ship recyclables overseas. "If we build a great [materials recovery facility] in Austin and you have a long-term plan on how to develop a long-term plan to fund economic development, like a full-time staffer who does green business recruiting, we can close the loop. The stuff that we use here, we recycle here, it gets turned into something here, and then we reuse it here."

The city will take input from various stakeholder groups, including SWAC, through early September, and then will take the results back to council. A public input meeting will be held at 6:30pm today, Thurs­day, July 30, at Town Lake Center, Room 130, 721 Barton Springs Rd. Details are available at www.cityofaustin.org/sws/masterplan.htm.

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