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Austin Restaurants Can’t Throw Away Food Waste Anymore

As part of the city’s Zero Waste ordinance

Compost bin with food scraps
Compost bin with food scraps
Anna Hoychuk/Shutterstock
Nadia Chaudhury is the editor of Eater Austin covering food and pop culture, as well as a photographer, writer, and frequent panel moderator and podcast guest.

Starting this week, all Austin restaurants are required to compost food scraps, as part of the last phase of the city-wide Universal Recycling Ordinance to make the city a zero-waste one.

According to the ordinance, all food enterprises (which includes restaurants, markets, and shops that serve made-to-order food, as well as places that prepare and process food) can’t send all organic materials to landfills, as of Monday, October 1. That applies to food, food scraps; paper towels and napkins; dirty paper, cardboard, and wax boards (i.e. food containers); flowers (like those used for decorations), and landscape trimmings (from those plants and gardens).

Alternatives include donating usable food to food banks, shelters, and soup kitchens to help feed others; sell scraps to local farms and ranches for composting or animal feeding; composting on their own or through a service like Compost Pedallers; or some other way that doesn’t end at the landfill.

The restaurants are required to inform the city of its organics plans, as well as educate its employees about the processes. Those who don’t follow the rules will be fined anywhere between $100 to $2,000 by the Austin Code Department.

In efforts to make Austin a zero-waste city, the government rolled out phases for recycling and composting requirements starting in 2013 with large apartment complex and businesses. The organics portion of the timeline began in 2016 with restaurants and the such that were larger than 15,000 square feet.