Universal Recycling Ordinance: Impact on Food Service Providers

The Universal Recycling Ordinance (“URO”) is not new. In fact, it was approved by the Austin City Council in 2010 and amended in 2013. Their stated goal is to increase the life of local landfills, reduce harmful environmental impacts and boost economic development. To accomplish these goals, they have required that responsible parties of affected properties ensure that residents, tenants, customers, and employees have convenient access to recycling. This requirement poses the questions for all business owners of “what is an affected property?” and “how do I provide convenient access to recycling?”

Does this affect me?

The short answer is: Probably.

The URO provides that a “Responsible Party” is (i) the owner of a premises or an employee of the owner or (ii) the manager of a premises or an employee of the manager.

The URO provides that “Affected Premises” include the following:

  1. Multi-family residential use properties;
  2. Office, medical office, medical facilities, religious assembly, or private educational facilities; and
  3. Non-residential properties including, but not limited to, hotels, grocery stores, and commercial businesses.

Additionally, if you are operating under a food permit (think grocers, farmers’ markets and restaurants), you must ensure that all of your employees have access to onsite diversion of organic materials as well.

I’m a responsible party for an affected premises, now what?

Once you have determined that you are covered by the URO, you must collect, educate and report.


You need to provide on-site recycling services and, if you are a premises with a food enterprise, organic material diversion. This means that you must:

1) Collect at least:

  1. Paper (both mixed paper and office paper);
  2. Plastics PETE (#1) and HDPE (#2) bottles and containers;
  3. Aluminum cans;
  4. Corrugated cardboard;
  5. Glass bottles and jars;
  6. Organic materials (if you are a premises with a food enterprise)

2) Provide receptacles, collection, capacity, and storage areas.

3) Provide removal services for all collected materials.

If you collect organic materials, specifically food, the URO provides that you try to find a beneficial use for the scrap food you collect. You are encouraged to (i) feed hungry people, (ii) feed animals, (iii) provide for industrial uses, or (iv) compost.


If you are the responsible party for an affected premises, you must annually provide recycling information and instructions to all tenants and employees of the premises for residential properties and to all businesses, tenants, and organizations located on commercial properties. All information must be written in both English and Spanish and each recycling container must meet standards set by the Austin Resource Recovery Department.


By February 1 st of each year, the responsible party for an affected premises must submit a recycling plan to the Austin Resource Recovery Department. If you are a new business, building, or multi-family residential complex, you must submit a plan to the Austin Resource Recovery Department not later than the 30 th day after receiving your certificate of occupancy or beginning operations. Your plan must:

  1. Be on a form prescribed by the Austin Resource Recovery Department;
  2. List the materials diverted;
  3. State the service capabilities for landfill trash, recyclables, and organic materials;
  4. State collection method and service providers for landfill trash, recyclables, and organic materials; and
  5. Include information and documentation as required by the Austin Resource Recovery Department.

The URO was phased in depending on the size of your property or business, however, as of October 1, 2018, it is effective for every property meeting the definition of “Affected Premises.” Penalties for non-compliance are steep (Between $200-$2000/per deficiency per day) and may be assessed in cases where education and assistance have been offered and the property owner or designee continues to fail to meet the requirements of the Ordinance. URO staff is available to provide education and technical assistance to owners, property managers, and their tenants and plan to work with owners and managers making good faith efforts to comply with the URO however if, after a year, a responsible party does not meet minimum standards of a complaint program, they may be subject to fines and enforcement.

This article is for informational purposes and is not meant to serve as legal counsel. Please reach out to your legal professional or the Austin Resource Recovery Department to ensure compliance with the URO at once.