Eco-Friendly, Local to Austin

SXSW Eco: The Highlights [Part 2]

Sylvia Earle, Photo: Mission Blue

Sylvia Earle, Photo: Mission Blue

While some of the presentations were fun (snack size, if you will), there were two big highlights for me.

First, Sylvia Earle. She was the keynote speaker on Tuesday, and she is beyond inspiring. She’s an oceanographer and explorer, pioneering a lot of ocean research and breaking gender barriers left and right. I started watching her documentary Mission Blue on Netflix but haven’t finished it yet.

Someone at the end of her session asked whether she still refuses to eat seafood and why. She said she still doesn’t because she knows what’s being passed through the food chain. We’re polluting our oceans so much that by the time we’re eating fish or shrimp or oysters, we’re taking in all the toxins as well. Hmph. I don’t like that. Not only because that puts a damper on my food choices but because I’m sickened by how much waste and how many chemicals are getting dumped into the environment and end washing into our waterways.

The second big highlight of Eco for me was a field trip to the Texas Disposal Systems’ disposal and recycling center.

I decided to drive myself to the landfill since it would’ve taken longer to park at the convention center and bus it down with the group, and that actually gave me an opportunity to talk with our tour guide while we waited for the bus to arrive. The first thing I noticed was that it did NOT smell like what I would’ve expected a landfill to smell like. In fact, I smelled nothing but fresh air.

Instead of a giant hole that trash continually gets dumped in and left open for all the rotting smells to blow around, Texas Disposal Systems has a process of having a smaller “working face” and covering each day’s dump with soil after it’s all been compacted. This contains the smell and keeps vultures and scavengers away.

Additionally, everything is separated and re-used as much as possible. We toured the composting wind rows that’s “watered” by leftover Coke and milk products to maintain the right moisture levels. They sell the compost at their retail stores called Garden-Ville along with mulch (chipped up lumber and wood palettes). Old tires are made into tire chips for re-use on children’s playscapes. It was oddly beautiful to see mounds of crushed up old pasta sauce cans or glass bits glittering in the sun.

While they have 340 acres of land permitted for landfill, they’re currently only using 60 of it. A huge area that won’t be developed into landfill for many years is housing a wildlife ranch with hundreds of 4-legged animals. They also have a pavilion and cabins that they use for private functions. This was the most beautiful landfill I could ever imagine.

I had no idea that all of this was going on a mere 20 minutes away from my home. It does also make me be much more vigilant in how we sort our trash from recyclables. And for sure, I’m going to get better at removing the cap from our recyclables so the plastic is easier for them to crush.


The last highlight I wanted to note as part of Eco was a speaking event with architect and designer David Trubridge, hosted at Treehouse, which is a green home improvement store. It’s on our way from the boys’ daycare and home, so we all met up there.


Trubridge’s designs are inspired both by nature and the body’s chakras. They’re intricate and geometric and with the help of computer modeling, ultimately scaleable to create some super large designs or little drop earrings. It was a pretty cool event. The tree-hugging hippy in me was beaming.

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