It's time for Austinites to start keeping tabs on their garbage because the heady days of limitless trash pickup are over.
Fees for extra trash come back starting Monday, Sept. 7, nearly six months after the Austin City Council waived them to accommodate residents who were working from home and, therefore, doubling their household waste output.
Restaurants were also, in mid-March, required to serve their food only to-go during the early days of the pandemic shutdown, generating more trash for households as well.
"Due to unprecedented changes brought about by COVID-19 earlier this year, we understood most households would be generating extra trash," said Austin Resource Recovery Director Ken Snipes. "We hope this effort has provided relief for our customers during these uncertain times."
Any bag of trash that doesn't fit in a household's city-issued trash cart will need a $4 excess-garbage sticker, which can be purchased at grocery stores. Otherwise, customers are charged $9.60 plus tax for each additional bag of trash. Extra recycling is free and always has been.
Overflowing residential trash cans, in typical times, brought in $8,000 per week in city fees. In the first month of the shutdowns, residents were producing 11% more trash than in previous months.
The city's recycling center, which closed in March due to COVID-19 concerns, is reopening on an appointment-only basis. Starting on Tuesday, Sept. 8, the Recycle and Reuse Drop-off Center (RRDOC) will resume its acceptance of hard to recycle items such as Styrofoam and plastic film, as well as household hazardous waste.
Austin/Travis County residents are asked to call (512) 974-4343 to schedule a drop-off time.
After a brief collection period earlier this summer, bulk trash collection is temporarily suspended. Click here to look at updated schedules.
Jodi Bart Holzband looks forward to trash day all week.
"I love that feeling, that it's leaving my house," the Austin public relations consultant said.
Never more than right now, perhaps, because Holzband says her family is generating more trash and recycling at the home than they ever did in the days before the stay-at-home order kept the family of four home all day.
"I'm taking out the kitchen trash twice as often," she said. "I'm so grateful that the trash and recycling are still being picked up."
The Holzbands certainly aren't alone.
Residents across the city, who are staying home to avoid the spread of the coronavirus, are disposing of 11% more trash and 15% more recycling from their homes than they were at this time last year, according to Austin Resource Recovery, which manages waste in the city.
The increase prompted the Austin City Council on Thursday to waive fees typically charged for overflowing residential trash cans, an estimated $8,000 per week, until the city lifts the social-distancing requirements and waste levels go back to average rates.
The ordinance is retroactive to March 23, the same week the stay-at-home orders went into effect, and is expected to cost some $96,000 in revenue from fees charged for extra trash for the next few months. The agency had projected $427,930 in revenue for the 2019-20 fiscal year from extra trash.
"Due to the unprecedented situation, we understand most households will be generating extra trash," said Austin Resource Recovery Director Ken Snipes. "We want to do our part to make these uncertain times easier for all."
Austin Resource Recovery had, in mid-March, already stopped charging $9.60 per extra bag or requiring residents to buy the "extra trash" stickers for $4, said public information specialist Memi Cardenas.
They have also halted all bulk and brush pickups after April 20 until further notice.
Residents have never been charged for extra recycling.
It's not just sheer time at home that's causing the increase, residents say. Every restaurant in town is required to serve their food only to go—meaning a lot more take-out and delivery containers landing in trash and recycling bins.
More home shopping also means more cardboard boxes and, in some cases, non-recyclable packing material.
According to the resolution, the fees were being waived not only to save Austinites some money, but also to discourage trips out of the house to other locations to drop off extra trash. The city's recycling center is currently closed.
The extra waste and pandemic circumstances increase the risks for sanitation workers, who Cardenas said are now all given sanitizer and disinfectant spray to use on their shifts. The city also has given them rubber gloves to wear beneath their current gear and has ordered masks, although the supply is currently going to hospitals and medical staff, she said.