On Nov. 15, Austin celebrated Recycle Right Day by reminding residents to double check their recycling habits to ensure they are not contaminating the materials. The city has a goal of deferring 90% of its waste from landfills by 2040.

Last year the deferral rate was 41.96%. Currently, about 15% of recycling ends up in a landfill. However, the biggest issue with contamination is that it can cause safety issues for the people who sort recycling, according to Keri Greenwalt, marketing supervisor for Austin Resource Recovery.

"The more that we recycle, the better. When you throw something away, there really is no 'away.' There is only so much space in the landfill," Greenwalt said.

The city of Austin collects recycling from residential customers every two weeks. Those materials are loaded into a truck and taken to a material recovery facility, or MRF, which is a third-party facility that sorts and sells recycling. The city works with Balcones Resources and Texas Disposal Systems.

Those MRFs use a combination of machines and people to sort the recycling and sell as much as possible, including tin, some plastics and glass.

"Some people do 'wish-cycling' where they just throw everything in the recycling and hope. Other people are so afraid to recycle the wrong thing that they don't recycle anything," Greenwalt said. "We need to find a happy medium."

What are some of the items that can be recycled?
  • Paper/envelopes
  • Nonfoil wrapping paper
  • Toilet paper/paper towel rolls
  • Steel and tin cans
  • Buckets/baskets
  • Toys without batteries
  • Jars/bottles and caps
  • Hard plastic lawn chairs
Did you know?
  • Milk cartons are not recyclable in Austin, because the city does not have a buyer for that type of paper.
  • Austin residents can donate old paint to the Austin ReBlend program. Residents can also receive a free 3.5-gallon paint can in three different colors.
Recycling tips
  • Never bag recycling when placing items in the cart. Loose plastic can get stuck in the truck or sorting machines.
  • Items should be rinsed, but they do not have to be spotless. Cardboard should be broken down.
  • The "What Do I Do With" online tool explains what to do with any item.
Other recycling alternatives
  • After a multiyear rollout, all single-family to fourplex homes in Austin have curbside composting bins. Food waste—including pizza boxes—yard trimmings and natural fibers can be composted.
  • Appointments can be made at Austin Recycle & Reuse to drop off other select items, including plastic bags, household hazardous waste, styrofoam and clothing.
  • The city also offers an online tool to find other ways to dispose of items, such as mattresses, including donating or repairing.
Holiday highlights
  • Austin Resource customers can leave Christmas trees out for curbside pickup starting Dec. 26. The city will turn the trees into mulch, which will be offered for free on a first-come, first-served basis starting Jan. 12.
  • Cooking grease can be dropped off at the Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center. A vendor then turns it into biodiesel that can be used to power vehicles.