Food vendors required to keep food out of trash in new city ordinance

Jackson Barton

As part of their plan to reduce waste sent to landfills by 90 percent by 2040, Austin Resource Recovery wants every food serving establishment to eliminate food waste from the trash.

The latest phase of the Austin Resource Recovery Master Plan went into effect Oct. 1 and requires businesses with a food license to divert all organic waste from landfills back into the community or the compost bin. Businesses must report plans for keeping organic waste out of garbage bins to the Austin Resource Recovery by Feb. 1, Austin Resource Recovery spokesperson Susanne Harm said.

The ordinance will not directly impact food vendors on campus since UT is a state entity. However, UT Sustainability Director Jim Walker said the new ordinance could foster new businesses focused on composting, which would in turn benefit UT’s composting system by offering more convenient solutions.

“Our waste footprint isn’t big enough by itself to have vendors change the way they operate just to handle our recycling and compost,” Walker said. “So when the city makes big goals like that, it starts to make more economic sense. We get to benefit from that.”

The ordinance suggests businesses donate extra food to feed people, send food scraps to animal farms or create composting plans, according to a press release.

According to the Master Plan, organic material makes up 47 percent of material disposed in landfills. Harm said Austin’s Universal Recycling Ordinance also requires businesses to train employees on how to keep food out of the trash. 

Every restaurant in West Campus will be affected by the ordinance. Some businesses such as Kerbey Lane Cafe already practice keeping organic waste out of landfills.

“Anything we can compost, we will compost, even the brown paper towels we use to dry our hands,” said Natalie Hinze, Kerbey Lane Cafe training coordinator.

Although the local breakfast joint does not have a formal staff composting system, which the new ordinance requires, Hinze said composting is brought up in interviews and during orientation.

“It’s a conscious decision that every team member has to make,” Hinze said. “It’s about getting the whole team behind it, and getting the whole team to believe in this composting.”

Walker said raising awareness of people’s own actions is just as important as putting sustainability programs in place.

“No matter how good the system is, if people don’t take a moment to think about their own actions, it doesn’t work,” Walker said.