Getting Residents to Recycle

Multifamily recycling is considered a challenge; however, it is possible for communities to establish and maintain successful recycling programs given the right tools and resources.

A successful recycling program can be defined as one that achieves a high diversion rate, state or local goals, collects multiple types of recyclables, and makes recycling accessible to more people. The path to success starts with the following tips:

Outreach and Education

Since residents rely on property managers to educate them, be sure to distribute move-in fliers/pamphlets in addition to quarterly or annual instructional fliers. If there is a recycling ordinance in your jurisdiction, notify residents that it is required to recycle. If not, promote environmental stewardship by asking residents to conserve natural resources and to take responsibility for protecting their community.

All communal containers should be clearly labeled. Signs with photos of recyclable and non-recyclable items are extremely helpful.

High performing communities educate their employees and maintenance staff on the do’s and don’ts of recycling. Their motivation and commitment directly correlates with resident participation.

Streamlined and Convenient Collection

Communal containers should be placed in busy areas (near the pool, mail room, leasing office, or gym). User friendliness and attractiveness of the containers are also things to consider.

Generally, 90-gallon carts provide enough room to store recyclables and allow for easy collection. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that at least 3 containers per set-out will allow for adequate sorting while decreasing contamination.

Single-stream or commingled collection is an easy way to increase participation because all recyclables can be mixed together. At a minimum, glass, cardboard, plastics #1-7, and aluminum should be collected. The more materials collected means a higher potential recycling rate, but some hauler restrictions may apply.

Doorstep valet recycling programs can also help streamline the process.

Monitoring Success

According to the EPA, the average net cost per ton of multifamily recyclables is $177, dropping to $113 for a high-performing community with diversion rates over 20 percent. Keep track of your program’s performance in terms of number of set-outs and containers, how often containers are emptied, quantity of materials collected, why there may be contamination, etc. Communities that keep track of this information are better equipped to correct problems and target educational outreach.

It is important to share and celebrate recycling successes with managers, staff, and tenants via newsletters, your website, or throwing a thank you party.

Implementing some or all of the above recommendations should result in an improvement in overall multifamily recycling participation and subsequently an increase in waste tonnage.