Austin City Soul Searching


The city of Austin, Texas, has had a goal of becoming a zero-waste city by the year 2040. That meant meeting a number of important benchmarks over the last few years. The city set a goal of sending only 10% of its waste to landfills, but the current level seems to have hit a steady pace of 60%. To find out what was going on, the city tapped its Resource Recovery Service, which sent its Design, Technology, and Innovation Fellows out into the streets to find out why.

One of the primary goals of the Fellows was to gain some “insight into the perspectives and behaviors of Austin residents and property managers regarding recycling and composting.”

Their research included going to visit recycling sorting facilities, riding along with collection route supervisors, and spending four weeks interviewing residents and property managers about recycling. There were only 52 interviewees (48 residents and 4 property managers), but there was significant diversity in terms of age, income, and neighborhood.

The study identified three topics: ability, knowledge, and motivation. The findings say, “People need strength in at least two areas to recycle effectively. People who have all three are more likely to be the all-stars or recycling enthusiasts.”

Then, the study broke down the topics further departmentalizing them into sub categories.

What I found most intriguing about the approach was the willingness to reach out to the actual residents, the ones who are recycling or not recycling. The Fellows sat down with these regular people and asked questions in a highly non-judgmental manner about their knowledge of recycling. It was discovered that there was confusion over what is recyclable and what is not, the rules, personal lives getting in the way of recycling, and more.

There’s already a plan to follow up on this by expanding on the first effort and doing a more detailed study of the neighborhoods in Austin, as well as larger studies of recycling behavior.

Check out the findings of the study for yourself at the Austin Resource Recovery website MSW_bug_web


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