What Do I Do With (this)?

Earth Day weekend I attended my neighborhood’s Spring Fling. I had a table for zero waste where I shared about the top contaminants in Austin’s recycling and composting systems, flyers on what can and can’t go in the curbside carts, the Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center, ReBlend paint, our app, and a new program that allows for apartments and condos to compost.

Getting set up

I have a fold up wagon and a garbage bag (waterproof for wet grass and possible rain) that I bring to my neighborhood events. I wagon my things over. We’re designed to be a walkable neighborhood and in line with that as well as being green and sustainable I choose to walk with my wagon and bag. I use a bag for my tri-boards since historically the event was held in the park on the grass and it had usually rained the night before. So I would be standing in mud and dealing with mud and grass. This year we moved to a different park and the tables were inside the pavilion. I had a lot more stuff and father to travel this year (5 blocks vs 1 block) and I almost contacted my neighbor friend who has a cargo tricycle to help, but I was able to manage all of it. I love that I have so many neighbors with cargo bikes that can and do offer to help transport things without a car.

My setup requires two tables since my tri-boards tend to fall over or get blown over by the wind. I’m also a big believer in demos and examples so I usually have a lot of stuff out to spark conversations. The tri-boards list out with examples the top 5 contaminants in Austin’s bins (data from several years ago) as well as a few items specific to my neighborhood and/or that I have been asked about. I also collected batteries for Austin Resource Recovery’s Earth Day push this year.

These are my boards, the image is from 2019 but largely unchanged. I think I’m going to draw lines down the folds to offset the columns more. During Covid we stopped our neighborhood recycling group where neighbors offered to collect items that needed to be sent into a particular place like TerraCycle or Crayola’s ColorCycle recycling program through our local elementary schools. So this year I only put out compost and recycling, which are color coded for our city’s bins: green for compost and blue for recycling.


This year I decided to add a “What Do I Do With?” Ask/Me box. This is inspired by that section of ARR’s website and Austin Recycle app. It has a collection of items that can or need to be discussed. It started as my pile of items to make little videos on but I didn’t get to that. April was a hard month for me personally. I was still able to put this bin together and I had a lot of great discussions on it. A few of my highlights:

  • Lo Salt – it’s a composite items so we talk about how to take it apart and recycle each component
  • Aluminum can – commonly crushed, this items is best kept intake for proper sorting and scanning
  • Options – milk and juice containers and the differences and pasta: box vs bag (also a great way to talk about windows on boxes and mail)
  • Styrofoam – we can recycle it, what we take, what we don’t and how to clean it. I have clean food examples, painted foam, foam from toys and uncleanable foam to discuss each one.
  • Plastic bag and film examples – super helpful to expand people’s perception
  • Cartons – milk/juice, creamer, coffee cup and ice cream. Trash them and options to replace them.
  • Lids – when to separate and when to keep them on the container
  • Mailers – where to take them, how to process them, better choices

For more information on what can be recycled at the Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center, like Styrofoam and plastic bags, see https://www.austintexas.gov/dropoff.

Compost Bin Buddy

ARR Kitchen Collector and Curbside Compost Cart courtesy of Austin Resource Recovery (ARR)

I was able to share with my neighbors about a new program ARR is offering. Apartments and condos can compost easily now and residential homes can help with their extra space. My neighborhood will have 12 apartment complexes and condos once the build out is finished. Back in 2015, Austin showed 46% of what was sent to the landfill was compostable. That’s almost half of what gets sent to trash. I always get a lot of questions from apartment dwellers whenever I post about compost so I was ecstatic to share this new program with them that allows them to easily and locally compost! They can also compost proteins and other items that need commercial-grade heat to break down that most farmers markets and community garden compost programs cannot accept. On the flip side, a lot of our homes don’t fill up our curbside compost carts so many neighbors are also eager to help fellow neighbors and Austinites to be able to compost by sharing their extra cart space.

I will also share that at least once a year Austin Recycles will post when they have compost pilot programs for apartments and condos. So make sure that you subscribe to their Facebook page to get notified of when that happens and then make sure to talk to your property owner about becoming part of that compost pilot program.

Be a buddy, Get a buddy at CompostBinBuddy.org.

Every day is Earth Day. We can make another sustainable choice each day. We can take one step into being a little more green. We can help someone get started or move further on their green journey. Have a great green day.

Links and more information

City of Austin Residential Recycling / Apartment Dwellers Guide
City of New Braunfels Residential Recycling
City of Round Rock Residential Recycling / Recycling Center
City of San Marcos Residential Recycling / Apartment Dweller Quick Facts
Apartments should check with their provider/contractor or that provider/contractor(s) website(s) for instructions/restrictions.

Composting: See Composting Questions and Confusions

City of Austin, TX: Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center for Plastic Bags/Plastic Film
City of New Braunfels, TX: “No Plastic Bags”
City of Round Rock, TX: “No plastic bags (Please take to your local grocer or reuse at home)”
City of San Marcos, TX: ” Plastic bags may be recycled in designated plastic bag return containers at the entrance at major retailer stores”
City of Mason, OH: The provider/contractor does not offer guidance. See options listed above. One of the chain stores listed above is recommended.

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