🌎 Where does Austin's trash go?
- 8 min read

🌎 Where does Austin's trash go?

It's Earth Day, Austin Dailies. Let's talk about how to make our fair city a bit greener.

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Introduction

🌎 Happy Earth Day, Austin. 🌎

If you're an observer of the day, you may have spent some of your weekend at one of the many cleanups organized around town to pick up trash on Austin's roadways and trails.

And while this day is usually all about reducing waste, the hard facts are humans are always going to have to deal with some amount of garbage. So today we're looking at where exactly Austin's garbage goes.

Then we've got a Q&A with the owners of Parker + Scott about their own journey to less waste and some tips about how you can organize (and get help with) your own community cleanup any day of the year.


So where does Austin's trash go?

Humans are waste-generating machines. And we’re good at it. But all that waste has to go somewhere, and it’s not like land is an endless resource. 

So where does Austin’s trash go? And are we prepared for the years ahead?

Let's talk Travis County landfills. 

There are three permitted landfills in Travis County, according to a 2022 report from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The Travis County Landfill, the Austin Community Landfill and the Texas Disposal Systems Landfill. They all have a combined 22 years of capacity left, according to TCEQ's 2022 estimates. 

A map showing the location of the landfills near Austin. There are three in Travis County, one in Williamson County and one in Caldwell County.

But we’re going to focus on the TDS landfill. That’s because the city of Austin has had a contract with TDS since 2006. (It expires in 2030.) TDS also picks up much of the commercial waste in Austin with its own large collection fleet. The facility also accepts waste from several Austin-area cities and numerous counties elsewhere in Texas.

That’s a lot of waste headed to our corner of the state. So what happens when TDS's current landfill fills up (which it estimates will happen in nine years)? 

The good news is TDS has been planning for the long game.

I spoke with Adam Gregory, vice president of TDS, about how it's prepping for the future. 

What started as a one-truck hauling operation in Austin in 1977 has grown into the recycling, compost and landfill facility on the 2,300 acres that TDS is today. 

But only 259 acres of that land is permitted for landfill disposal. That will expand soon as TDS files for 75 years of additional capacity. But about 1,000 acres of that land will never be used as a landfill, Gregory said, in an effort to maintain a buffer between housing developments and what can be a noisy, messy and occasionally smelly process even in the best-run facilities. 

So what happens at the landfill? 

The traditional model: Charge at the gate, then put the waste in a hole in the ground and cover it up. 

How TDS differs: “Charge at the gate and then do everything that we can, within the bounds of economics and environmental protection, to divert material from the landfill, add value to it and create valuable products here on site that we can then sell back in the marketplace,” said Gregory.

How does TDS divert waste?

🌎 Composting food and green (think brush and grass clippings) waste

🌎 Commercial and residential single-stream material recovery facility (this is the destination for what you put in your blue recycling bins)

🌎 Sorting, processing and recycling construction and demolition waste, scrap metal, tires and glass

🌎 Concrete, brick and masonry crushing and aggregate manufacturing (aggregates are then used in the precast concrete products TDS makes)

🌎 Operating a resale center — if you bring a truckload of waste to TDS's landfill, you don’t just dump it into a hole in the ground. Instead, TDS will sort through your deposit and identify anything that can either be diverted to one of its recycling and processing operations or, if it still has value, be resold in its resale shop. (And yes, you can go shop there!)

TDS isn’t stopping at filling landfills and diverting, recycling or repurposing waste. 

TDS is in the process of building what is essentially a small refinery, which will process the gas produced by landfills (mostly methane and CO2) to create a renewable natural gas, which will then be used to produce the electricity that is used onsite. 

“We already have six megawatts of generators on site that will be generating more than the electricity that all our operations need, so we’ll become a net energy producer,” said Gregory.  

That will be coming online later this year. The next goal? Transitioning the fleet to also run off of the natural gas produced by the landfill. (Read more about that concept here). 

So in summary, how’s Austin’s future looking? 

“Austin is in a better position than most, as far as it goes with capacity and not having a desperate need to figure something else out,” said Gregory. “We’re located 10 miles as the crow flies from the State Capitol building. Most cities don’t have large capacity that close.”

Some last advice: Don’t put your garden hoses in the recycling. It’d be nice if those were recyclable, but if they end up in your blue bins, the only thing they’re likely to do is break the sorting machines at a recycling center. 

Cat DeLaura, Reporter


Temperature: 71 degrees | Sun: Sometimes | What to Expect: Great moods

The weekend cold front will continue to deliver dry and cool air to start the work week. Temperatures will be comfortable with highs near 70 and winds light out of the northeast.

Mary’s Tip: It’s Earth Day, so plan to do something nice for the environment. If you’re a gardener like me, take a gallon jug over to The Natural Gardener for a free compost tea.


Jess and Ian Haisley of Parker + Scott dish on sustainability

Remember Jess and Ian Haisley, the owners of Parker + Scott general store and refillery? Given their focus on making sustainable choices in their store and home life, we wanted to get their advice on how we can all produce a little less waste for the landfill. So we asked them.

What’s your best piece of advice for someone who is trying to live more sustainably?

Ian: The best piece of advice we can give is to start small and stay consistent. 

It's all too easy to get caught up in the "nots"— not buying the right things, not living a zero-waste life, not doing everything "perfectly." Yet, the essential question we pose is, "Are you making an effort towards change?" If you are, then you're already contributing positively. So, let's let go of the guilt together.

Remember, perfection in sustainability isn't the goal; progress is. Just as we've embraced the three Rs and an L — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Local — here at Parker + Scott, it’s about making thoughtful choices, bit by bit. Whether it's choosing a digital receipt, carrying a reusable water bottle, shopping locally, recycling, composting, or even bringing in your containers for our refill bar, each small step contributes to a larger impact.

The key is to make these practices habitual and part of your everyday decisions.

What are some of the easiest swaps someone can make in their daily habits or households to be more sustainable?

Ian:

  • Refill and Reuse: Switch to refillable options for products you frequently use, like soaps and cleaners. At Parker + Scott, we offer a wide range of refillable, eco-friendly home cleaning supplies and personal care products.
  • Find ways to reduce Paper use: Opt for digital receipts and bills to minimize paper waste. We encourage this practice in our store to cut down on the paper trail. We also encourage customers in our shop to skip the bag or bring their own bag. 
  • Reusable Containers: Invest in high-quality reusable containers for food storage and shopping. This simple change can significantly reduce your reliance on single-use plastics.

Jess:

  • Shop Local: Reduce the carbon footprint associated with shipping by purchasing from local producers, artisans, or shops. This not only supports the local economy but also reduces the environmental impact of your purchases.

What was one of the hardest transitions/swaps for you to make?

Jess: Eliminating paper towels and napkins from our household was one of our toughest challenges, especially with three kids at home. Convincing teenagers to break the habit of reaching for disposable paper products took effort and patience. Over several months, we gradually replaced paper towels and napkins with cloth alternatives and Swedish dishcloths. We established bins for dirty rags and used napkins, integrating regular laundering into our routine. This swap not only reduced our waste but also instilled a sustainable practice that our whole family now values.


You, too, can keep Austin beautiful.

Three people wearing Keep America Beautiful shirts pick up trash along the side of a road.
Source: Anna Webber/Getty Images

Sadly, living in an urban environment means we’re constantly surrounded by trash that either didn’t make it in a trash can or somehow managed to escape one. But, as this weekend and the numerous community cleanups that always occur around Keep Austin Beautiful Day prove, we can do something about it. And we don’t have to wait for Keep Austin Beautiful Day to do that something. 

Did you know Keep Austin Beautiful will help you organize a community cleanup any time of year? It will also help provide you with tools, pick up the garbage that is collected and promote your cleanup to get more folks involved. 

Here’s what you need to know:

Set a date, time and location. Then let Keep Austin Beautiful know about your plans three weeks in advance to have the full trash bags picked up after the cleanup and two weeks in advance to request supplies. 

🦺
The type of supplies you can request: trash bags, grabbers, a container for holding sharp objects (like needles or broken glass), safety vests, gloves, sunscreen, bug spray, hand sanitizer, poison ivy wash and first aid kits. In short, just about everything you could need.

Some record keeping. Keep Austin Beautiful asks you to have a sign-in sheet for all your volunteers and fill out a report form at the end of the cleanup. The form has various questions about the number of volunteers, hours worked, amount of trash or recycling gathered, miles cleaned or invasive plants pulled (yep! Pulling weeds can be a part of your cleanup.). 

Find more tips here.


🌧️ I keep on falling

Today's clue is for 17 Across: the fourth word in the name of Austin's 50-year-old show that features performances in Moody Theater.


Were so glad you found us. Find our bios and contact info here, or reach out at hello@austindaily.com. Behind todays send: Katie Canales, Cat DeLaura and Mary Wasson.