We Wrapped up our Multifamily Recycling Project


Remember the grant we won to pilot a Multifamily Recycling Project? Well we finished the project and are excited to share what we accomplished during the past year and half. 

What did we do? 

We developed these stickers for residents to put on their recycling bins.

Our Project Coordinator spent 10 weeks at four properties tabling and handing out toolkits to residents. Overall, she  handed out toolkits to 165 residents in person, hung 55 toolkits on resident’s doors and left 20 toolkits with the property managers for new residents. Our toolkits included a reusable bag (sewn by the The Gearfix from old billboard advertisements), a Ok to Recycle/Not Ok to Recycle sticker, A Rethink Waste Guide and information about recovering food waste. We also created displays for the community rooms of each property. 

Community managers can reference this display when educating residents how to recycle correctly

We also focused on increasing access to recycling space for residents by adding more recycling bins and a cardboard dumpster. Overall, we increased recyclable materials recovered from 1,805 commingled gallons and 6 yards of cardboard per week to 2,755 gallons per week and 12 yards of cardboard material recovered every week (plus a third 6-yard dumpster to be added soon). We sought to achieve the ratio of 1-yard of recycling space per 10 units at each property.

On average, we reduced recycling contamination by 13.75% between the four properties. 

At one property we consolidated the four separate enclosures into one bigger garbage enclosure. This new enclosure increased recycling space, decreased overflow issues, improved overall cleanliness and reduced garbage bills for the property. However, it did create some accessibility issues because the enclosure was not in a central location. 

What did we learn? 

Adding a cardboard recycling dumpster can increase commingled recycling space at multifamily complexes.

We observed that giving residents access to a cardboard recycling dumpster helped optimize space in the 95-gallon commingled recycling bins. Cardboard takes up a lot of space, especially when residents don’t break down boxes, and creates overflow issues. By adding a 6-yard cardboard dumpster to the garbage enclosure we helped recover valuable material and gave residents more access to commingled recycling space. 

A mixture of in-person education and outreach and distributing information made the biggest difference in reducing recycling contamination.  At the property, where we used this method we reduced contamination by 25%! Contamination is an issue because when people put the wrong thing in their recycling it causes problems in the Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) slowing down the system or stopping it altogether. For instance, plastic bags get wrapped around conveyor belts, lids get jammed in machinery. On top of this, markets that buy our recycling to make new commodities are now saying no to materials because of high levels of contamination. Across the country, 1 in 4 items that ends up in curbside recycling bins, isn’t actually recyclable.

Next steps…

The Rethink Waste Project will continue to work on other waste management systems that multifamily complexes face like recovering or recycling bulky waste. We’ll also apply what we learned during the multifamily recycling pilot project to a new tourism pilot project. To learn more, download the resources used during this project, look at our Best Practices document, or contact our Rethink Waste Program Manager Udara@envirocenter.org.