Innovating to Zero Waste

Authored by Alexis Custard

Last month, the Urban Co-Lab hosted its inaugural EmPower Hour, a series of events based on addressing urban issues by featuring speakers who are champions of positive change in their communities and connecting them to engaged citizens in a conversational atmosphere to inspire and promote action.

True to word, the June Hour featured Natalie Betts, the Recycling Economic Development Liaison of the City of Austin, who is charged with (among other monumental tasks) of bringing the City of Austin to 90% zero waste by the year 2040.

Natalie Betts, Recycling Economic Development Liaison of the City of Austin's Resource Recovery and Economic Development Departments. (Photo credit: Natalie Betts)

Natalie Betts, Recycling Economic Development Liaison of the City of Austin's Resource Recovery and Economic Development Departments. (Photo credit: Natalie Betts)

Beginning with introductions, the diverse group of attendees – ranging from zero waste entrepreneurs to local experts to AmeriCorps members – then enjoyed the food and beverage of in.gredients, a local, zero waste grocery store while listening intently as Betts demonstrated the knowledge and passion that is necessary to guide a metropolitan with one million people AND their trash toward a sustainable loop, a challenge which begs the question...

Some of the fare catered by in.gredients. Pictured from top to bottom: blackberries, ground cherries, hummus, dried mango, heirloom cherry tomatoes. (Photo credit: Urban Co-Lab)

Some of the fare catered by in.gredients. Pictured from top to bottom: blackberries, ground cherries, hummus, dried mango, heirloom cherry tomatoes. (Photo credit: Urban Co-Lab)

How can this be done?

 

First, even having a Recycling Economic Development Liaison. “I think you can see more opportunity when you can straddle two worlds,” said Betts of her position, which was specifically created to bring together the separate Resource Recovery and Economic Development departments in order to attract, retain, and grow zero waste businesses and entrepreneurs, thus creating local jobs and fostering a resilient zero waste ecosystem in Central Texas. 

Second, creating (or supporting) a sustainable business. Recycling, reducing, and reusing creates new company ideals, which create new career opportunities which creates a healthier more sustainable living environment. One company that has created a new opportunity through recycling is Toybrary, which functions like a library with toys that people can rent for children. Another is Brewnola, a granola company that repurposes the leftover grain from the beer brewing process.

Pictured above, some of the theory behind zero waste: the Linear Economy versus the Circular Economy. (Image credit: Natalie Betts)

Pictured above, some of the theory behind zero waste: the Linear Economy versus the Circular Economy. (Image credit: Natalie Betts)

Third, seeing sustainability beyond waste. "As manufacturers are designing things they should think about how to dispose of it," said Betts, which means often not disposing it at all. Local Fixit Clinics teach people how to rebuild their broken items, from applicances to clothing to bicycles, and Betts recommends considering things as within a circular economy.

Fourth, being an informed, involved citizen. Not sure where to start? Join the Austin Zero Waste Lifestyle Meetup and Facebook groups to learn from fellow Austinites, or attend a Zero Waste Advisory Commission meeting, run by local citizen experts!

Austin's beautiful boardwalk, showcasing one of the reasons the city is such a wonderful place to live. (Photo credit: Austin Convention & Visitor Bureau)

Austin's beautiful boardwalk, showcasing one of the reasons the city is such a wonderful place to live. (Photo credit: Austin Convention & Visitor Bureau)

At its conclusion, the number of resources and ideas that emerged from the evening's presentation and discussion participants were too many to capture in one blog post. But out of everything at least one thing is certain: the next time you are about to throw out that broken kitchen table or water bottle -- WAIT! Give it a second chance to become something perhaps even greater than what it was before.

Looking for more ways to support zero waste? Additional resources within the city of Austin include:


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