Friday April 22, Austin City treated us with an unforgettable program that began with a meeting with Bob Getter, Director of Solid Waste Services, followed by a tour of the University of Texas at Austin, followed by a meeting with Pliny Fisk and Gail Vittori, then an evening Earth Day Concert that featured a riveting presentation by Robert F Kennedy Jr and performance by Bruce Hornsby.
Austin's large 96 gallon (360 litre) blue recycling bins - the way to go.
We had an interesting discussion with Bob Getter concerning the City’s draft Zero Waste Master Plan which was presented at a public meeting on March 30, 2011.
The plan proposes a drastic reduction in the amount of trash to landfills by 2050. Approximately 1million tonnes of waste is disposed of annually of which only 25% is controlled by the City. A comprehensive program has been unveiled to progressively improve waste diversion from current levels of around 35% to75% by 2020 and zero by 2030. Austin is achieving very high levels of domestic recycling with the fortnightly collection using the default 95 gallon blue bin that is collected weekly.
You know, I only just worked out why the apparent discrepancy when converting US gallons to litres, and another reason why US fuel seems so cheap. The US gallon is 20% less than the Imperial gallon!!
Thus the 96 US gallon recycling bin equates to a 360 litre bin. This is important, because the default size in Australia is 240 litres. Recent trials and waste stream audits in Coffs Harbour, Australia have demonstrated that significantly higher recycling diversion rates are achieved with a larger 360 litre bin!
Austin’s ambitious waste reduction goals are all the more challenging due to the very low waste disposal costs of around $20 per tonne. The low disposal costs, and absence of a state tax on waste to landfill (as is the case in NSW, Australia) is a disincentive to source separate and process waste streams to maximise resource recovery.
Highlights of the tour of Texas University included highly efficient LEED green buildings, gas fired power generation to serve the entire university and very significant energy efficiency gains and greenhouse gas abatement over the past 15 years, particularly with respect to power generation efficiency improvements. The Centre for Sustainable Development within the School of Architecture has undertaken significant research and collaborative projects in terms of sustainable urban design and energy efficient buildings. For Councils undertaking community strategic sustainability plans, the Central Texas Sustainability Indicators Project provides a very good reference and template for measuring progress. See http://www.centex-indicators.org/. Many thanks to Jim Walker and Barbara Wilson for the university tour. Did you know that the Texas University at Austin has a population of 50,000 students plus 20,000 teachers, admin and support staff!!!
Texas University Gas Power generation & chilled water control room, where massive energy efficiency improvements have been made
Our meeting with Pliny and Gail was certainly a big surprise. Pliny who is credited with initiating the worlds first municipal green building program and Gail have just released a book “Centre for Maximum Potential Potential Building Systems – 35 years of serious commotion”. Our conversations focussed on new ways of thinking about sustainability, about the things we build, the towns we create, whole of lifecycle implications including employment generation, embodied energy of materials, pollution outputs, resource conservation, carbon footprints, ecosystems, and more. Pliny and Gail’s property is a testing laboratory for many of the ideas. See photo. We very much appreciated meeting Pliny and Gail. It is rare to meet such people who really push the boundaries of sustainability thinking.
Pliny Fisk and Climate Change Fellows, Jeff and Wayne (L to R ) discuss the merits of using brine waste water from desal plants for lightweight high strenth magnesium oxide cement building products.
The talk by Robert F Kennedy Jr was riveting, and quite frightening in terms of the damage that is being caused by the exploitation by corporations of fossil fuels. Such damage includes the environment, governance, international security, economies, employment, community well being, and public health. At the same time Mr Kennedy offered an alternative carbon neutral future with clean, ethical, renewable energy powered by the sun and wind, growing employment and environmental and social well being.