‘Cracking the code’ on multifamily recycling | Guest Column

Michelle Metzler

Setting up successful recycling systems in apartment buildings is like a puzzle. You can have all the pieces right in front of you, but they don’t work together until every piece is in the right place.

At Waste Management (WM), we call it “cracking the code” on multifamily recycling. It involves placing the right containers in the right places, with signage in the right languages – so everything works together in a complete and successful way.

It’s a complex challenge. It’s also key to reducing waste across the Puget Sound region, where recycling rates for apartments and condos in many communities are dramatically lower than recycling rates for single family homes.

That’s why we put the WM Recycle Corps interns on the job.

WM Recycle Corps is a summer internship program for college students created by WM and designed to take recycling to the next level in our community. The WM interns work directly with property managers and residents to help people master the recycling basics that make the biggest difference:

1. Recycle all empty bottles, cans and paper

2. Keep food and liquids out of recycling

3. Keep plastic bags out of recycling

Through one-on-one conversations on doorsteps, our multilingual interns help WM multifamily customers set up clear and convenient systems for reducing waste. They even go door-to-door at apartment complexes and condos to troubleshoot sorting systems and provide “how to” information and signage.

Often, the WM interns find the recycling bin tucked away in the corner of the property or bins that are too full. Space for recycling containers can be limited both inside apartment units and on the property itself. There can be multiple languages spoken at one complex, and some residents may have limited English proficiency.

With team members fluent in Spanish, Mandarin and Cantonese, our interns help bridge the language gaps so more community members can participate in recycling and understand the program.

The WM Recycle Corps program has been a big success for WM and the environment. Nearly 50 percent of WM Recycle Corps alumni are working in the industry for private companies and the public sector, continuing to impact recycling habits in our communities. Recognizing these successes, the Solid Waste Association of North America honored WM’s Recycle Corps program with the prestigious Gold Excellence Award – one of the highest honors in the industry.

Be on the lookout for our interns this summer. They’ll be visiting apartment complexes across the region, bringing WM’s multilingual, multicultural resources to help multifamily communities put all the pieces together, to recycle right.

If you ever have questions about reducing waste or recycling, setting up recycling at your apartment or condo, WM is here to help. Just shoot us an email at recyclenw@wm.com.

Michelle Metzler is the recycling education & outreach manager for Waste Management.

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