Austin Resource Recovery

2023 Annual Report

This report covers Austin Resource Recovery activity in the City of Austin Fiscal Year 2023 which includes October 1, 2022 through September 30, 2023.

A message from Austin Resource Recovery Director Richard McHale

Austin Resource Recovery Director Richard McHale
Dear Austin,
I'm proud to present Austin Resource Recovery's 2023 Annual Report. In fiscal year 2023, Austin Resource Recovery (ARR) continued its journey toward a zero waste Austin.
The past year brought one of ARR's biggest collection challenges to date; Winter Storm Mara. The record-breaking freezing rain and ice accumulation left hurricane-level destruction throughout our city. While cleaning up from the historic event was no easy feat, ARR displayed its ability to respond quickly and effectively, collecting over 170,000 tons of storm debris in just 10 weeks.
ARR has developed updated mission and vision statements and a set of organizational values. The new ethos highlights the department’s purpose with the overarching goal of creating a clear understanding and a tangible connection to the work performed by the department and its many employees.
Nothing ARR does would be possible without the continued dedication of our staff. I am grateful for each employee's hard work and commitment to our City, this department and for their drive to protect people and our planet.
Sincerely, 
Richard McHale, Austin Resource Recovery Director
Austin Resource Recovery (ARR) is a department of the City of Austin that provides a wide range of services designed to transform waste into resources while keeping our community clean.
Pennybacker Bridge expanding over the Colorado River


Mission

We provide essential services that protect people and our planet.

Vision

Driving the global transformation of traditional waste management to sustainable resource recovery.

Core values

  • Teamwork: Together, we can build a world without waste.
  • Safety: We provide resources and services to protect employees and the community.
  • Excellence: We are a highly-skilled workforce that strives to exceed expectations.
  • Accountability: We deliver work with integrity and hold ourselves accountable.
  • Innovation: Working towards a world with zero waste through local innovation.
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion: We work to constantly improve our cultural competence and seek input from underrepresented voices.

Austin's road to zero waste

The City of Austin is committed to a zero waste goal to reduce the amount of trash sent to landfills by 90% by the year 2040. The diversion rate at the end of Fiscal Year 2023 was 63.42%. (This diversion rate includes the large amount of storm debris collected and diverted following Winter Storm Mara.) 


Residential services


ARR provides residential collection of recyclingcompostingtrashlarge brush and bulk items. ARR also removes dead animalssweeps the streets, recycles and safely disposes of household hazardous waste, and provides community outreach and education.
All households in Austin, including single-family homes, and apartment and condo dwellers, pay a monthly $5 Clean Community Fee to provide services that keep Austin clean and enhance the livability of our neighborhoods and the downtown area. 443,243 households are paying this fee.
ARR composting, trash and recycling curbside carts sit at a residential curb.

Curbside collections

ARR provides curbside collection services to 215,485 single-family homes and multifamily properties with four units or fewer.
Larger multifamily properties are serviced by private haulers. ARR collected 53,839 tons of recycling, 44,722 tons of composting and 132,867 tons of trash through curbside collections. In addition, 8,606 tons of bulk items, 175,088 tons of large brush, 538 tons of litter and large debris, and 57.68 tons of clothing and textiles were collected. 



In Fiscal Year 2023, ARR collected:
  • 53,839 tons of recycling
  • 44,722 tons of composting
  • 132,867 tons of trash
  • 8,606 tons of bulk items
  • 175,088 tons of large brush
  • 538 tons of litter and large debris
  • 57.68 tons of clothing and textiles

Recycle and Reuse Drop-off Center

At the Recycle and Reuse Drop-off Center, customers can make an appointment to drop off a variety of items to be recycled, reused or safely discarded, and pickup mulch, paint and more at no charge. In Fiscal Year 2023, 928 tons of household hazardous waste (HHW) and 1,617 tons of other hard-to-recycle materials were dropped off at the center. As a result, 388 tons of HHW were recycled or reused and 191 tons of ReBlend Paint were produced from unwanted paint customers dropped off at the center.
ARR employee loads Styrofoam into a condenser machine at the Recycle and Reuse Drop-off Center.
Recycle and Reuse Drop-off Center by the numbers:
  • 928 tons of HHW dropped off: 388 tons recycled or reused and 540 tons safely discarded
  • 1,617 tons of hard-to-recycle items recycled
  • 126 tons of Reblend Paint produced; 3,559 requests to pick up free Austin ReBlend Paint
  • 143,652 items were requested to be dropped off, through 62,637 scheduled drop offs
  • 2,878 requests to visit the ReUse Store to pick up free items
  • 2,724 requests to pick up free mulch
Austin ReBlend paint is packed for free distribution
Many materials that are dropped off at the center are in usable condition. These items go to the ReUse Store, where other people can pick them up. Bottles are on shelves waiting to be picked up.
Map of the area around the Recycle and Reuse Drop-off Center


Community programs

Austin Reuse Directory

The Austin Reuse Directory is an online resource for Austinites to find where to donate, resell, buy responsibly, rent and repair items, while supporting Austin's local reuse economy.  

Fix-It Austin

Fix-It-Austin teaches Austinites how to fix common household items (like clothing, lamps, small appliances, bikes, and jewelry) and provides access to necessary tools to repair them. The program helped 125 residents to fix their items at three Fix-It clinics.

Generation Zero

In partnership with Keep Austin Beautiful, ARR provides presentations, activity kits, youth service projects and field trips for students in grades K through12 to raise awareness about recycling, composting and conservation, while fostering environmental stewardship. The Generation Zero program educated 8,408 students in Fiscal Year 2023. 

Holiday Tree Recycling

The holiday tree recycling program collects holiday trees at the curb from City of Austin curbside customers and at Zilker Park. Then the trees are recycled into free mulch and offered a first serve basis to City of Austin residents. A total of 45 volunteers collected approximately 2,500 holiday trees at Zilker Park in December 2022, and free mulch was offered to residents on January 12, 2023. 

MoveOutATX and the Free Furniture Market 

Every July, a significant volume of material is abandoned on the curb or near dumpsters when students move. MoveOutATX helps to reduce the waste left by around 18,000 students. The 2023 MoveOutATX campaign worked with eight reuse organizations and kept a total of 23 tons of reusable material out of local landfills. As a new addition to MoveOutATX, the Free Furniture Market found new homes for 548 pieces of furniture by offering them to community members for free.

Zero Waste Block Leaders

Zero Waste Block Leaders (ZWBLs) are engaged residents who are passionate about sustainability and zero waste. They offer their time and knowledge to others and share information about recycling, composting, repurposing and repairing. The program had 296 enrolled ZWBLs in Fiscal Year 2023.
Aaron Cleaver, a Zero Waste Block Leader, stands with a block leader sign.
Holiday trees are stacked into a huge pile at Zilker Park, waiting to be recycled into mulch. The Ausitn skyline is in the background.
Someone threw away a perfectly good giant Bevo stuffed animal in a dumpster during University of Texas move out. It could have be donated to MoveOutATX.


Business services

Austin Resource Recovery provided cart-based trash collection services to 2,240 commercial customers. There are 24,716 commercial businesses that pay the Clean Community Fee for services that keep Austin clean and enhance the livability of our neighborhoods and the downtown area.

Circular business services

In partnership with the Economic Development Department, ARR continues to facilitate programs to support local circular businesses through regular business retention visits and unique events. Staff met one-on-one with more than 50 circular enterprises to provide resources, understand challenges and connect to programming throughout Fiscal Year 2023. Other circular business programs include:
  • The [RE]verse Pitch Competition encourages local businesses, nonprofits and institutions to reduce waste by finding alternative ways to use their business byproduct materials. PalletAble and Pyrocycling won prizes valued up to $4,800. 
  • The third annual Circular Austin Showcase connected circular economy businesses with potential investors in the region. A judging panel selected The Conscious Pet as this year’s winner following pitches from eight finalists. Mason Arnold with The Conscious Pet received $12,000 in prize money. Kelly Rytlewski with Heartening received a $1,000 cash prize for placing second. 
The Conscious Pet was awarded a 12,000 dollar prize at the 2023 Circular Austin Showcase.

Commercial Compliance Unit 

The Commercial Compliance Unit sends compliance officers to interact directly with the business community to provide education about the Universal Recycling Ordinance (URO), improve ordinance compliance and increase the submission rate of commercial recycling plans. In Fiscal Year 2023, 67.18% of businesses reported being in standard compliance with the five URO requirements.

Construction and Demolition Recycling Ordinance

The Construction and Demolition (C&D) Recycling Ordinance requires affected construction and demolition projects to divert construction waste from the landfill. The ordinance states general contractors must reuse or recycle at least 50% of the construction debris from affected projects. The average reported C&D diversion rate was 60.27% in Fiscal Year 2023. 

Universal Recycling Ordinance

The Universal Recycling Ordinance (URO) supports Austin's zero waste goal. The ordinance requires commercial businesses and multifamily properties to ensure that all commercial tenants, multifamily residents and employees have access to recycling. It also requires food-permitted businesses to ensure that all employees have convenient access to diversion methods that keep organic materials out of landfills.
Fiscal Year 2023 URO plan submissions:
  • 63.68% of commercial and multifamily businesses submitted an annual recycling plan.
  • 55.05% of food-permitted businesses submitted an annual organics plan.

Zero Waste Business Rebate

The Zero Waste Business Rebate is an incentive encouraging businesses to improve their waste reduction and diversion practices. The City of Austin offers rebates for commercial, food-permitted and multifamily properties and businesses. 
Applicants or properties must meet all ordinance requirements to be eligible. Eligible businesses can earn up to $3,000 for reducing waste beyond the minimum requirements for the Universal Recycling Ordinance.
Four businesses were awarded a total of $4,496.96 in rebates in Fiscal Year 23.


Financial report

View of Austin skyline across Ladybird Lake
People paddle board on the Colorado River in Austin.
Austin trail around Ladybird Lake with a view of the city skyline and residents running and biking.

Total Fiscal Year 2023 ARR revenue: $132,615,616*

*Unaudited results – not final.
The overall department revenue was under budgeted amounts by $0.72 million. The three major budgeted revenue sources performed as follows (listed in order of revenue received, from highest to lowest):
1. Residential services exceeded budget by $0.6 million; attributable to customer growth. 
2. Clean Community services matched budget.
3. Commercial services matched budget. 


Revenue breakdown

  • Residential services: $79,439,921
  • Clean Community services: $30,667,229
  • Commercial services: $2,553,880
  • Recycling sales: $2,320,676
  • Extra trash: $526,783
  • Other (includes general government, interest, property sales, county and other miscellaneous revenue): $17,107,057


Total Fiscal Year 2023 ARR expenses: $140,120,689*

*Unaudited results – not final.

Expense breakdown

  • Collection services: $72,023,821
  • Transfer and other expenses (includes interdepartmental charges, accrued payroll, insurance, bad debt, administrative support, CTM support, etc.): $31,335,658
  • Support services: $11,343,784
  • Litter abatement: $9,367,687
  • Operations support: $8,214,182
  • Waste diversion: $6,532,553
  • Remediation: $1,303,004


ARR’s leadership in the City’s efforts to help people experiencing homelessness


Encampment cleaning and support

ARR led the coordinated effort on encampment cleanups, hosted weekly cross-departmental meetings and assisted Public Works. 
In Fiscal Year 2023, ARR:
  • Assisted with 269 encampment cleanings.
  • Collected more than 1,528 tons of waste generated by the violet bag sites and through encampment cleanups throughout the city.
  • Provided daily service of all underpasses in the downtown corridor.
  • Increased servicing for underpasses (Menchaca/Hwy 71, IH35/Hwy 71 and Slaughter Ln/IH35).
Homeless encampment site with tents, shopping carts and litter.


Winter Storm Mara

ARR collected over 28 years’ worth of normal annual large brush tonnage in the span of a few months following Winter Storm Mara.
Frozen limbs litter an Austin lawn during Winter Storm Mara
Between January 30 and February 2, 2023, Winter Storm Mara battered Central Texas, bringing historic amounts of freezing rain and ice accumulation to Austin. The storm was much worse than expected and caused service interruptions for curbside collections. The weight of the ice brought down thousands of tons of branches, creating a large volume of debris that was spread across the community.  
ARR monitored weather conditions and identified emergency response personnel to plan for the cleanup process. On February 3, ARR activated existing emergency contracts for storm debris management and monitoring and crews began collecting debris. ARR also set up temporary storm debris collection sites across Austin to speed up recovery efforts.  ARR completed three citywide passes between early February and late April, driving along all streets to pick up storm debris properly set at the curb by customers. Between February 3 and April 19, crews collected over 170,000 tons of storm debris. ARR typically collects around 6,000 tons of material in an entire year of semiannual large brush collections. This means ARR collected over 28 years’ worth of normal annual large brush tonnage in the span of a few months. ARR crews continued special collections for customers through early June.  
The ARR team created a storm debris webpage to share recovery updates and proper set out guidelines tree limbs and branches to be collected. The webpage was visited 33,076 times through April 2023. ARR also created social media content to share collection updates and reminders. The Austin Recycles app was downloaded more than 2,600 times during the storm response timeframe because customers wanted to get alerts about service changes and updates. ARR received a Critics Pick award for “Best Disaster Response” as part of The Austin Chronicle’s annual “Best of Austin” awards. The publication praised ARR for “going above and beyond when it came to not just cleaning up but keeping everyone updated on what was happening and when". 

The storm debris and tree damage from Winter Storm Mara was widespread. A large tree is snapped in half.
A large pile of storm debris is stacked along the curb in front of a home that suffered a lot of tree damage during Winter Storm Mara..


Looking ahead: The future of zero waste in Austin

As Austin grows, ARR looks ahead and consistently searches for opportunities to reach zero waste in Austin, while providing exceptional customer service.

Comprehensive Plan

Austin City Council approved the adoption of the 2023 Austin Resource Recovery Comprehensive Plan.
This plan guides Austin toward its goal of zero waste.  In 2011, the Austin City Council adopted the zero waste goal to reduce the amount of trash sent to landfills by 90% by the year of 2040. ARR's work revolves around meeting this goal, while providing necessary services to keep our community clean. The 2023 Comprehensive Plan outlines the aggressive milestones to ensure that goal is achieved on time and provides information on how the department is putting plans into action to equitably support a diverse Austin. 
Woman uses a compost collector in her kitchen to collect food scraps

Multifamily composting

The City of Austin will require composting collection at all multifamily communities starting in October 2024. 
Multifamily properties with five or more dwelling units will be required to provide tenants and employees convenient access to commercial composting services, including one gallon of composting capacity per unit, with no overflowing containers. Properties will need to accept certain materials for composting, including food scraps, food-soiled paper and BPI-certified compostable products. Properties will also be required to provide education to tenants and employees, make sure signs and labels are on all composting containers and fill out a plan each year. 

New Plastics Economy and U.S. Plastics Pact

The City of Austin is working alongside over 100 stakeholders nationwide to move towards a more circular economy for plastic.
Austin Resource Recovery is actively working with other City departments to identify plastic purchasing trends and develop strategies to reduce plastic and packaging waste, which includes eliminating unnecessary plastic from its internal operations.

Northeast Service Center

Austin Resource Recovery anticipates expanding its headquarters and will begin construction on the Northeast Service Center (NESC) in June 2025.
The Northeast Service Center will incorporate vehicle servicing shop areas, warehousing, administrative offices and support functions, outside storage and vehicle storage that will be merge and consolidate current operations from various separate locations. Currently, ARR maintains its entire fleet from the Todd Lane location in southeast Austin. The NESC's target move is January 2028.
The exterior of Kenneth Gardner Service Center, the Austin Resource Recovery operations building located at Todd Lane.

Reuse warehouse

The City of Austin was awarded a $4 million grant by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to procure real estate and equipment to open a reuse warehouse.
Austin is among 25 communities chosen to receive funding from the EPA’s Solid Waste Infrastructure for Recycling Program. The reuse warehouse will accept drop-off donations and redistribute furniture to regional nonprofit organizations with a focus on furnishing homes for those transitioning out of homelessness. The grant period is expected to begin in Spring 2024 and an operational facility is anticipated by 2027.

On-call services

ARR plans to expand its on-call service offerings of bulk, brush and household hazardous waste collection programs to grow beyond pilot testing to customer-wide program offerings. The City hopes to expand these services to all residential customers in the future. 
ARR trash, recycling and composting trucks are lined up in the yard.

Vehicle fleet technology upgrade

ARR adopted a new software solution to provide better customer service.
In November, ARR transitioned to Rubicon (a software platform that provides full-service waste management, recycling and smart city technology solutions) as the departmental tech solution. This aligns with ARR's commitment to streamline and enhance its functions. The change is expected to bring improvements to route efficiency and customer service; and provide improved integration with the City of Austin’s billing and 3-1-1 service request system.


Awards and recognition

ARR Director Richard McHale was awarded the 2023 Phil Parmer Volunteer Service Award from the Capital Area Planning Council of Governments in appreciation of leadership and dedication to regional environmental and solid waste planning.
ARR was awarded a 2023 Best of Austin Award, getting Critic's Pick for Best Disaster Response from the Austin Chronicle for its response to Winter Storm Mara. [Photo by Jana Birchum, The Austin Chronicle]
The Public Information and Marketing team at ARR was awarded a Distinguished Service Award by Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter and the Austin City Council in recognition of the community outreach and marketing around the final expansion of curbside composting.
The City of Austin has a goal of reaching zero waste by 2040. ARR received recognition in pursuit of that goal:
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded the City of Austin a $4 million grant for a reuse warehouse.
  • The Public Information and Marketing team at ARR was awarded a Distinguished Service Award by Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter and the Austin City Council in recognition of the community outreach and marketing around the final expansion of curbside composting.
  • MoveOutATX's marketing campaign won three awards, including a Gold 2023 Hermes Creative Award in the category of Integrated Marketing Campaign; a First Place Grassroots Marketing Campaign 2023 Blue Pencil Award from the National Association Of Government Communicators; and a 2023 Communitas Award in the category of Excellence In Corporate Social Responsibility.
  • ARR was awarded a 2023 Best of Austin Award, getting Critic's Pick for Best Disaster Response from the Austin Chronicle for its response to Winter Storm Mara. The publication praised ARR for “going above and beyond when it came to not just cleaning up, but keeping everyone updated on what was happening and when". 
  • ARR Director Richard McHale was awarded the 2023 Phil Parmer Volunteer Service Award from the Capital Area Planning Council of Governments in appreciation of leadership and dedication to regional environmental and solid waste planning.
  • Recognition from the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council for department participation in the council's first sustainable purchasing assessment.


Customer satisfaction

Male ARR operator rides on the back of a composting truck
 At the end of each fiscal year, ARR customers are surveyed by a third party about City of Austin services, including curbside recycling, composting, trash, bulk and large brush collections; cleanliness of City streets; and household hazardous waste disposal. The latest available results are from Fiscal Year 2022. Here are the 2022 survey highlights:
  • 1,024 customers completed the survey.
  • The survey was conducted online and over the phone to capture more diverse responses.
  • Satisfaction with ARR employees remained high, at 89%.
  • The 2022 value of service was rated at 70% which is a 5% increase over 2021.
  • Overall satisfaction with ARR service is 75%.
  • Customers suggest increasing collection services, providing additional or larger bins, simplifying composting and recycling, and most importantly the need to educate and inform the public.