Inspiring zero-waste innovation at the intersection of business, policy and oyster shells

The City of Austin’s Universal Recycling Ordinance supports Austin’s Zero Waste goal by requiring affected property owners to ensure that tenants and employees have access to convenient recycling. The ordinance also includes an Organics Diversion component which requires food permitted businesses to reduce or divert organic material away from the landfill. Businesses can meet this requirement through various approaches including leaner supply-chain management, composting organic materials, donating edible organics, or by finding reuse opportunities, a specialty for the Austin Materials Marketplace team.

Quality Seafood Market provides Austinites with the freshest possible seafood and has been doing so for almost 50 years. They run a tight ship that expertly maneuvers obstacles to serving up seafood to Central Texans, but the organics-related requirements in the URO created a new challenge for Quality Seafood. They generate a significant amount of byproducts from their seafood preparation including heavier items such as oyster shells and smellier items like fish parts - by-products that are inedible to most Central Texas animals, and difficult and rather expensive to compost. Owner Carol Huntsberger noted,

“Quality Seafood Market is dedicated to finding the highest and best use for all products without sending them to the landfill. The Austin Materials Marketplace program is helping us to achieve that goal.” 

Quality Seafood Market joined the Austin Materials Marketplace to develop and implement pro-environment AND pro-business solutions for their hard to divert materials. The Austin Materials Marketplace team has been working on finding reuse opportunities for these materials that save on disposal costs for Quality Seafood while also helping the restaurant meet the organics diversion component of the URO. The team explored several reuse options including loading up empty trucks and sending the shells to the gulf for oyster reef restoration projects, and using ground up shells to enhance soil and animal feed. However, the logistics for each solution have been challenging to incorporate into Quality Seafood’s operations.

We were thrilled when Munkebo Farm joined the conversation and brought a new reuse idea to the table - to use these shells as road base. Munkebo Farm picked up 3000lbs of oyster shells from Quality Seafood to use on their farm’s road, which saved on costs for both parties, diverted around .7 tons of CO2 emissions, and created a road made of natural materials that won't leach harmful chemicals into the surrounding environment.

Interested in using oyster shells for landscaping purposes? Have another creative idea for materials available in the Marketplace? Login to your account and start a transaction.

Granite Dust for Healthy Soil

Granite Recyclers Austin is an Austin-based recycling and remanufacturing business that produces solid stone products like fire pits, pavers and split-faced tiles from 100% pre-consumer granite by-products generated by other Austin stone businesses. Their business, which we’ve covered in the past on our blog, plays an important role in helping other businesses in Austin divert waste from landfill and into higher and better use.

The focus today though is on another aspect of their business - and that’s the efforts they’re making in their own operations to be a zero-landfill business. The specialized machinery used by Granite Recyclers Austin produces two by-products: granite rubble and cutting sludge, which is dried and sifted to form a dust-like soil amendment.

Through the Austin Materials Marketplace program, Granite Recyclers Austin has been able to find reuse opportunities for both of these waste streams, approximately 13,500 pounds so far, including a connection made this week with the Compost Coalition for the granite dust.

Granite dust contains many nutrients and minerals that can be easily absorbed by plants. This soil amendment improves plant structure, increases resistance to pests and disease, and creates more intense flavors in fruits and veggies. This material was a perfect fit for the Compost Coalition, a grass-roots, volunteer network whose mission is to divert organics from the landfill back into our soil. Last week, the Compost Coalition picked up approximately 20 pounds of the dust to distribute to local community gardens, including a new project to create organic food gardens in underserved areas in Austin.

Give us a shout to learn more about getting involved in the Austin Materials Marketplace.

Two unconventional farmers find an unconventional match through the Austin Materials Marketplace

Aspire Food Group and Eden’s Cove Farm projected to see over $13,000 in savings and value creation

The Austin Materials Marketplace network is made up of over 200 eco-conscious organizations, businesses and entrepreneurs; including Austin’s only commercial scale, food-grade cricket farm: Aspire Food Group. Sustainability has deep roots at Aspire; not only in their drive to reimagine global food systems, but also in how they operate on a day-to-day basis. To this end, Aspire joined the Austin Materials Marketplace to discover higher and better uses for their primary by-products: coconut coir, peat moss, and organic cricket feed.

At Aspire, the crickets have an average lifespan of a little over one month. At the end of this month, there is leftover feed and nesting habitat materials - peat moss and coconut coir. Like many materials we see in the Materials Marketplace program, we quickly recognized the economic and environmental potential in finding a higher and better use for these nutrient-dense materials.

Eden’s Cove Farm, a heritage hog farm focused on building community and sustainability, is one of the participants capturing value from this by-product stream. On an ongoing basis, Eden’s Cove is picking up thousands of pounds of material per month from Aspire Food Group to use as feed for their heritage hogs. So far, the transaction has diverted 7,470lbs from landfill and avoided 5 metric tons of CO2 emissions. Both parties will also save big in 2017 with this ongoing transaction: approximately $12,000 per year in replacement feed costs, and a little over $1,000 per year in landfill disposal and new by-product revenue.

To sweeten the pot a bit more, Eden’s Cove is also using buckets from Austin Bergstrom International Airport - found through the Austin Materials Marketplace - to transport and store the feed. Austin Bergstrom International Airport generates an ongoing supply of these buckets; they typically recycle them, but prefer to find opportunities for the buckets to be reused due to the environmental benefits of reuse over recycling. With three different organizations finding reuse opportunities through this one transaction, this is truly a win-win-win scenario.

Take advantage of our program and create value for your business today by logging into your Marketplace account, browsing what’s available and starting a transaction. Not an Austin Materials Marketplace participant? Joining is easy - get in touch today to learn more.

Apto Solutions and Liquis Inc. find new value through the Austin Materials Marketplace

Apto Solutions, an ITAD services provider, and Liquis Inc., a facilities decommissioning and asset recovery corporation, joined the Austin Materials Marketplace program to buy and sell inventory that might otherwise end up in a landfill. Because of the environmental benefits of reuse over recycling, Apto and Liquis hoped to find reuse opportunities through the Austin Materials Marketplace program to generate value and improve their environmental footprint. Since November, Apto has used the Marketplace to find new markets for many of the materials they’ve made available so far, with almost every transaction generating value and helping Austin achieve its zero-waste goal.

Take for example Apto’s recent transaction with Liquis for 19 telecommunication vaults - large plastic and metal boxes used to house and route telecommunications equipment underground. Liquis purchased all 19 vaults from Apto to distribute for direct reuse. This transaction created mutual value for both companies. Buying these new and unused vaults through the Marketplace created thousands of dollars in savings for Liquis. For Apto Solutions, the transaction resulted in the creation of additional value and savings by finding a buyer and avoiding additional disposal fees. This transaction also saved around 1.66 metric tons of CO2 and diverted 554 cubic feet from landfill.

As we roll into 2017, we hope to see many more transactions like these that create significant value for program participants, the local economy, and the environment. Login to your Marketplace account now to check out what’s available and start a transaction of your own.

Johnson's Backyard Garden and Ian's Giving Garden exchange drip irrigation tape

Johnson’s Backyard Garden just completed a transaction to provide 3,000 ft of drip irrigation tape to our youngest (and arguably coolest) Austin Materials Marketplace participant, Ian’s Giving Garden.

Ian McKenna, 11, has started multiple “giving gardens” around town to grow and donate food to children and families in need in the Austin area. His wonderful efforts are fueled in part by grants from the City of Austin Sustainability Office, Katie’s Krops, the Sodexo Foundation, and others; and we hope to connect Ian to more and more materials resources as his work grows and expands.

Great work, Ian!

Feeding Animals: Strange Land Brewery and Bedford Farm connect on Spent Brewery Grain

The Austin Materials Marketplace’s latest success story comes from Strange Land Brewery and Bedford Farm. The two businesses have started an ongoing relationship to reuse Strange Land Brewery’s spent grain as animal feed at Bedform Farm, diverting a significant amount of organic material from landfill each month.

This is one of the oldest case studies in the book. All around the world, breweries have their spent grain picked up in bulk by farmers, usually at little or no cost. This is a symbiotic exchange because sending spent grain to landfills is expensive, and farmers rely on this low-cost but energy-packed food to keep their meat and dairy prices low. This is also an ancient tradition, with fossil evidence suggesting that as far back as the Neolithic period (2000 B.C.), brewery by-products were being used to feed domesticated animals.

The US EPA also recommends organics recovery through feeding animals, prioritized just below source reduction and feeding people:

“Feeding Animals is the third tier of EPA's Food Recovery Hierarchy. Farmers have been doing this for centuries. With proper and safe handling, anyone can donate food scraps to animals. Food scraps for animals can save farmers and companies money. It is often cheaper to feed animals food scraps rather than having them hauled to a landfill. Companies can also donate extra food to zoos or producers that make animal or pet food. There are many opportunities to feed animals, help the environment and reduce costs.”

Weevil'ed Cornmeal

One of our more unusual trades to date: yesterday Johnson’s Backyard Garden picked up a pallet’s worth of 50lb bags of cornmeal from The Natural Gardener. Unfortunately for The Natural Gardener, weevils had gotten into the cornmeal and it could no longer be used for its original purpose.

Despite the weevils, the cornmeal could still be useful in certain applications, especially given its nitrogen-rich properties. Johnson's Backyard Garden picked up on this value, and picked up the cornmeal for use around their facilities.

This single transaction diverted ~3000lbs from the landfill, in addition to cutting disposal and purchase costs for both parties.

Spent Grain and T-Tape

Diversity Farms, one of our newer participants, has confidently jumped into the program with both feet! In late July 2015 they completed two transactions, one with Johnson's Backyard Garden for ~500 feet of irrigation tape, and one with (512) Brewing for ~300 lbs of spent grain. The irrigation tape was installed in the garden and fruit tree orchard, and created some good learning experiences with the material in the process, which we hope to share with other program participants down the road.

State of Texas Alliance for Recycling reuses 750 recycling bins from 3M

This is a trade that really defines the “highest and best use” principle. 3M had 750 gently used desk-side recycling bins available in the marketplace. The State of Texas Alliance for Recycling (STAR) has a fantastic bin grant program, which donates recycling bins to schools across Texas who are trying to start their own recycling programs. You can probably guess what happened next after we put them in touch...

We estimate this single transaction was worth about $5,250 to STAR. And while we’re happy about these materials being reused, we’re especially happy to know that they’ll stay in good use keeping additional materials out of the landfill for a long time to come.

Monitor Stands

[progress_bar label="892lbs Diverted from Landfill" color="#6b5101" percentage="100"] General Motors' Austin Innovation Center uses custom monitor mounts for many of its workstations, meaning in most situations, the stock monitor stand is removed and set aside prior to use. We connected GM and Global Environmental Services to make use of these untouched materials, 892 lbs total.

Miscellaneous Office Furniture and Electronics

General Motors' Austin Call Center contacted us for assistance in facilitating the reuse or recycling of a significant amount of unneeded office furniture and obsolete electronics. We were able to facilitate a connection between General Motors and Texas Office Products & Supply for the transportation, reuse and recycling of nearly all of GM's materials, about 75 cubic yards total. In addition to landfill diversion, this transaction saved GM ~$600, and estimated resale value for TOPS is ~$3,000. Click here for details on the types of the materials. And as of May 2015, GM has continued to use the program to divert additional office furniture and equipment from the landfill - a great example of global landfill-free objectives aligning with local opportunities and action.

Plastic Chart Holders

Austin Regional Clinic recently switched to all digital medical records, and contacted us for help in reusing or recycling their now unneeded plastic chart holders. With our facilitation, the Austin Habitat for Humanity Restore was able to take ~250 of these chart holders, and will reuse them in their day-to-day operations. And Central Waste and Recycling was able to take the remainder, approximately 1,000, and will recycle the plastic.

PVC Pipes

Austin Resource Recovery had 3 barrels of used PVC pipes cut into 2-3 foot lengths for donation to non-profit organizations or individual residents. This was approximately 150lbs of PVC. The Austin Habitat for Humanity Restore picked up this material and reused them for various building projects. We estimate approximately $460 in raw material purchase savings for the Austin Habitat for Humanity Restore from this single transaction.