Cleaning up the complex | Guest Column

Solving the multifamily recycling puzzle.

Recycling in apartments and multifamily housing is a real puzzle. People are constantly moving in and out of complexes, and residents have different levels of knowledge and experience when it comes to recycling.

Then there’s the space problem. Space for recycling containers is often tight inside individual apartments as well as in parking lots where larger recycling containers are stationed. It can be challenging to find room to store recyclables in an apartment. It can also be discouraging when you goto empty recyclables in the larger container outside and find the container overflowing.

These factors can lead to problems: garbage in recycling carts and frustrated residents who want to do the right thing but are not empowered to “recycle right.”

What’s a recycler to do?

The good news is, local governments and Waste Management are making progress in solving this puzzle. What we’ve learned, essentially, is that better multifamily recycling comes down to three fundamentals: engaged property management, infrastructure design, and resident education.

Even more good news: new guidelines from Waste Management are proving helpful as we partner with property managers and residents to improve recycling. We call the guidelines the Three Cs—Convenience, Clarity, and Capacity.

1. Convenience: Make recycling and garbage containers convenient for residents to access.

2. Clarity: Label containers with photographs and images to show residents what items go where.

3. Capacity: “Right size” containers so recycling bins don’t fill up or overflow before pickup day.

Now, in addition to the three Cs, we’ve also added an E for Education. By that, we mean education for multifamily housing staff and residents. This is extremely important to ensure that recycling practices happen correctly and consistently. That’s why Waste Management developed a program to help property managers put all the right pieces in the right places.

How is the picture coming together?

We’re making progress. Last year, Waste Management worked directly with 129 properties in two counties, reaching more than 2,300 multifamily households. Together, the households increased recycling by 237 cubic yards per week. To understand this impact, think of 24 dump trucks piled high with recyclables. That’s how much more material ended up being recycled last year, rather than going to the landfill. Today, the learnings from those partnerships are being applied across the Puget Sound. Program resources are available online at wmnorthwest.com/recyclingallstars.

Is there more to be done?

Absolutely, and we can’t do it alone. With ongoing partnership from local governments, property managers, and multifamily residents, we will continue to improve multifamily recycling. Along the way, we will put more pieces in place to solve this unique recycling puzzle and make our communities cleaner and greener.

Michelle Metzler is the recycling education & outreach manager for Waste Management. Have more recycling questions? When in doubt, find out at recycleoftenrecycleright.com.

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