City be­gins pro­gram to re­cy­cle old toi­lets

Pi­lot ef­fort aims to ad­dress what crit­ics say is a gap in en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Marty Toohey

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

Jay Jan­ner

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