City begins program to recycle old toilets
Pilot effort aims to address what critics say is a gap in environmental policy
Looking to fix what critics have called a major oversight in environmental policy, the City of Austin has started, on an experimental basis, recycling old toilets.
The service targets old toilets removed after residents replace them with low-flow toilets available free of charge under a city incentive pro- gram. The recycling began last month at a city center in East Austin, on FM 812, at what was once the city dump.
The new program comes in response to complaints from environmental activists, who were irked at the seeming irony of a program that advanced water-conservation goals but also used public money to bloat the area’s landfills with porcelain, undermining a city commitment to recycling. City officials had said they could not find a cost-effective way to recycle toilets. But after renewed criticism earlier this year, the city established the pilot program. Officials say it
Continued from A1 is part of an effort to better coordinate environmental efforts across city departments and avoid such policy gaps.
“Right now, we’re still in a test phase” for the toilet recycling program, said Drema Gross, acting water conservation division manager for the Austin Water Utility. “I want to see how many people participate. But we’re definitely hoping to continue the program.”
Those who want to have toilets recycled can either drop them off at the facility or call the Solid Waste Services Department and request the city take them away during bulk pickups every three months or so. The city pays Texas Disposal Systems to recycle the toilets.
The water utility has set aside $2,100, which should handle 500 to 1,000 toilets, for the pilot program, Gross said.
It’s still up to the owner of an old toilet to recycle it or simply send it to the landfill. Seven people have recycled a total of 12 toilets since the program started in mid-June, although city officials are hoping that number will increase as word of the recycling program gets out.
The city has offered free high-efficiency toilets since the mid-1990s because they use 63 percent less water than older models, according to the water utility.
In the 2009 fiscal year, the city replaced 19,888 toilets — or roughly 994 tons of porcelain, most if not all of which presumably wound up in the area’s landfills.
Recycling old toilets requires smashing them apart, separating porcelain from metal parts, then crushing the porcelain. Porcelain also tends to shatter with jagged edges that must be smoothed before disposal.
Other cities have tried recycling toilets with varied success. Fort Collins, Colo., makes money on its toilet recycling program, but San