Reduce, reuse, and recycle. Sounds simple enough, but variations in building size, resident participation, and trash disposal systems can make recycling at multifamily properties hard for managers to sort out. Despite the challenges, more and more managers are making it easier for residents to think green. As waste technology advances, multifamily managers are introducing cost-effective programs that help conserve the environment. Approximately 23 percent of the 11.5 million households living in buildings with 10 or more dwelling units can access recycling services, according to a recent national study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“In the past couple of years, there [have been] re-educational campaigns by the waste industry and by municipalities, and recycling has had to make a resurgence,” says Todd Tibbits, senior vice president of property services for Atlanta-based Post Properties. “Going forward, I think it's going to be something a resident comes to expect.”

Post Properties takes recycling seriously at its properties. It collects approximately three tons of recycled goods per property per month.
Post Apartment Homes Post Properties takes recycling seriously at its properties. It collects approximately three tons of recycled goods per property per month.

DO THE RIGHT THING Multifamily communities are thinking outside the box to offer residents recycling amenities that go beyond traditional curbside programs.

Consider Avenue 64: The 224-unit apartment community in Emeryville, Calif., offers a two-chute recycling service. One chute is for trash; the other is for recyclables. All items are commingled and then separated off-site by Waste Management, a national trash-hauling company headquartered in Houston.

Residents will do the right thing and recycle if it's convenient, says John Stevens, development director for San Francisco-based BRE Properties, which manages Avenue 64. The chutes are typically located near the elevators on each floor of the building and lead to a trash room in the garage. “The costs of the additional chutes are dependent on the size of the building and the number of chutes you have in the building,” he adds. “I'd estimate it costs $12,500 per trash room for a five-story building.”

Recycled goods at Post Properties go a different route. The developer places 95-gallon bins in a centralized location for its multifamily residents. “Typically, we put out 10 containers on each property,” says Tibbits of Post Properties. “We usually dedicate five of those to newspaper and five for plastic, glass, and aluminum.” With about 20 properties in Atlanta and around 15 properties in Dallas, Post allots a total of $65,000 annually to maintain its recycling disposal.

The residents are certainly pitching in. “We're averaging three tons of recyclables per property per month,” Tibbits says. “So every month, each of our Post apartment communities is keeping three tons out of the landfills.”

But multifamily firms can feel good about more than helping the environment. “A key benefit is the overall reduction in your operating expenses and your trash-hauling costs long term,” Stevens says. Often, recycling services will pick up recycling—and trash—for less money than trash collectors, who pick up just trash.

Fees, of course, vary by firm. Post pays the waste removal company Conex Recycling a $150 flat-rate fee per property per month. Regardless of the size of the property, that service fee covers pickup and disposal of the recyclables, as well as labor and tipping fees. Post saves an estimated $100 per ton recycled, or about $120,000 a year on landfill costs, explains Shannon Sibbitt, the development director of Atlanta-based Conex.

“So it's really economical for the manager,” Sibbitt says. “Not only is it the right thing to do and provides [residents] with an amenity, but the community also is saving money on their waste. Most of them feel like $100 is worth it to participate.”