We love being part of a community dedicated to becoming a zero waste city, but what exactly does that mean (especially for the citizens of Austin)? Simply defined, zero waste means that no trash is sent to landfills, incinerators or the ocean. It’s a big undertaking for a city the size of Austin, but we’re the place that made urban farming cool, so we think this capital city can handle it. In our humble attempt to answer a few of your recycling “say whats”, read below.

    1. Can paper go with plastic?

Kind of like the answering the question of what can actually go in the microwave (paper coffee cups are okay; plastic lids are not), the question of whether paper can go in the same recycling bin with plastic—or metal or glass for that matter—has haunted city dwellers since recycling programs took off nationwide. Lucky for Austinites, several years ago the city attempted to make recycling easier on you, the citizen, by allowing all mixed recyclables to go into the blue bin. But to help you “recycle right,” here’s a quick breakdown of which materials within those categories are allowed in your personal curbside blue bin (because a pizza box doesn’t count as “paper”):

Paper: Glossy paper (like magazines), junk mail (including phone books because who uses those these days), newspapers and non-foil wrapping paper.

Boxboard and Cardboard: Boxes (like the ones you get from Amazon Prime), cardboard (think of cereal boxes), toilet paper and paper towel rolls.

Metal: Steel and tin cans (soda cans and the like), aluminum foil baking pans and aluminum foil (*note: rolled up in a ball at least two inches or larger).

Glass: Jars and caps (did you know you could recycle those caps?), bottles and bottle caps (note: labels can be left on jars and bottles).

Plastics: because plastics can be so confusing… and remember, we’re just talking about the blue bin for now.

  • Plastics that can go in the bin: Hard plastics like water or soda bottles, jars and tubs, non-battery toys (they do have a place after all!), buckets (like the kind you use for seasonal decorations), baskets (like laundry baskets) and lawn chairs.
  • Plastics that can NOT go in the bin: plastic film and bags (these can be recycled at the front of grocery stores like HEB, Central Market and Whole Foods), dry cleaning bags (some participating dry cleaners will take them for recycling), CD/DVD cases, plastic foam (like those foamy egg cartons), Styrofoam peanuts (you can take them the UPS store).

    2. What if it’s recycling week and my bin is full?

The city will collect extra recyclables at no charge. If you fill up your blue cart, you can place additional items to be recycled in a cardboard box or other reusable container next to it on recycling day.

    3. What stays out of the blue bin?

Other than the plastics mentioned above, do NOT place the following in your blue recycling bin: water hoses, textiles, wood, medical waste (that kind of seems obvious), broken glass or dishes, light bulbs, mirrors, windowpanes, ornaments and decorations, wet or food-stained paper of any kind (including paper towels, paper plates, paper cups and pizza boxes).

    4. What about compost?

Yes indeed—what about compost? If your neighborhood in Austin is not yet included in the curbside composting collection program, be patient: the city recently added 38,000 new households to its already existing 52,000 with plans to cover the entire city by 2020. If your household is a part of the program, you can place “yard and food scraps,” as Austin Resource Recovery describes them, into your green bin. This includes meat scraps and pizza boxes but does not include bacon grease.

For those who are currently composting, your friends at SEED have a few tips on how to keep the bugs out of your green bin and the smells at bay:

  • Layer food scraps with yard trimmings
  • Keep food scraps in the freezer until collection day
  • Line the kitchen collector with a paper bag
  • Sprinkle baking soda in the kitchen collector

So there you have our easy(ish) guide to figuring out what in the world goes where. Remember that items like tires, paint cans, batteries, and electronics have no place in curbside recycling. But you can take them to the Recycle and Reuse Drop-off Center. And if it still feels overwhelming, we love the handy picture guides that ARR sometimes sends in the mail or you can find online here—just remember to recycle it when you’re finished reading!