Increasing Recycling Participation in Your Community

Increasing Recycling Participation in Your Community

According to the EPA, there are 13.2 million multifamily housing units in the United States and approximately 52 percent of them are served by a recycling program.  If recycling was made available to all multi-family units at least 847,000 additional tons of materials could be diverted from the waste stream.

Although there is no single model for a successful recycling program due to variations in building size, layout, resident characteristics, and trash disposal systems, there are numerous methods to establish a successful recycling program. The benefits of implementing a waste reduction program allow properties to decrease waste disposal costs, bring buildings into compliance with applicable regulations, help achieve local and state recycling goals, as well as make recycling accessible to more community members.

One of the most effective ways to ensure success is a city or state mandated program. The EPA estimates that 62 percent of multifamily housing recycling programs are already mandated. Mandates can include state or city requirements that offer waste reduction opportunities to residents; requirements that haulers provide waste reduction services; or requirements that all residents participate. Financial incentives for property managers and owners are usually available. Many cities and states have seen an increase in recyclables due to mandates; however, if your area is not mandated, here are several ways to implement a successful recycling program:

1) Outreach and Education:

Residents rely on the property manager to distribute educational materials. Distributing move-in flyers/pamphlets as well as biannual, annual, or quarterly instructional flyers greatly increases diversion rates. Be sure communal recycling containers are clearly labeled. Flyers with photos of what to recycle and what not to recycle are extremely helpful, especially if there are multi-lingual residents.

High performing communities educate their employees and maintenance staff on the do’s and don’ts of recycling. Manager commitment, in terms of motivation and direct interest, directly correlates with resident participation.

2) Streamlined and Convenient Collection:

Renters want to live in a building that streamlines the recycling process to make it as easy as possible. This can be accomplished with multiple communal recycling bins placed near busy areas, such as near the pool, mailing room, leasing office, etc. User friendliness of the collection containers (e.g., visibility, attractiveness, prominence) and the location of the containers (proximity to the trash containers) are other things to consider that will increase participation. Buildings with 90-gallon carts generally provide enough room to store recyclables and allow for pick-up. According to the EPA, providing at least 3 containers per set-out allows for adequate sorting while decreasing contamination.

Single-stream or commingled collection means all recyclables can be mixed together and they don’t have to be separated. The more types of materials collected means the higher your potential recycling rate, so be sure to check with your hauler to see if commingled collection is an option.

Additionally, doorstep valet recycling programs are available. Valet programs virtually eliminate contamination and increase participation since everyone can participate at the convenience of their doorstep.

3) Monitoring Success:

The more a community recycles, the more cost-efficient recycling programs become. The EPA estimates that the average net cost per ton of multifamily recyclables is $177, dropping to $113 for communities with diversion rates over 20 percent. Keep track of the performance of a program (e.g., set-outs, number of containers, how often containers are emptied, quantity of materials collected, etc.). Communities that know this information are able to better target education efforts/outreach, which encourages participation.

The key thing to remember is that multifamily recycling is possible and can be effective.

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