Author Cody Marshall, Consultant

Author Cody Marshall, Consultant

Multi-family recycling is not a new concept, and certainly is not a difficult one. However, the collection of recyclables on multi-family properties is something that can easily be overlooked in a community.

If you are new to the recycling world, you may be asking what multi-family recycling is and how it is defined. Good question. Communities define “multi-family” properties in different ways and collect (or don’t collect) “multi-family” recycling in different ways. In general, I think most of us think of apartments when we hear “multi-family.” For the purpose of this post, when I say multi-family, I am referring to apartments, townhomes, condos, and basically any property with 8 or more habitable units. If you live in a college town like I do (Go Heels!), you might add fraternities and sororities into that mix. Although they are not individual habitable units, they are livable structures crammed with a bunch of young adults consuming beverages, and other, recyclables.

Communities across the country are experiencing an increase in the development of multi-family properties. According to the US Census, multi-family units have increased roughly 4% in the past four years. Just from my own experience in Chapel Hill, NC, a town of 50,000 people, four new multi-use properties have been built within the last three years, with more on their way. These multi-use properties are typically buildings with businesses (retail and/or office space) on the first floor, with hundreds of condos on the floors above. This trend highlights the need for local governments to focus on solutions to effectively collect recyclables from these properties.

Every community is different. Whether your community contracts out with a private hauler for curbside recycling collection, or it is collected by community/municipal staff, take the time to incorporate the multi-family properties into the mix. In both scenarios it is important to note that these properties should be expected to pay for the service, in a similar way single family homes pay, through taxes or fees, even though they may be deemed “commercial properties.” If you have subscription service for recycling in your community, getting multi-family collected takes a little more effort. In that case you need to have targeted outreach to your multi-family properties to get buy-in. That is for another blog, another day.

Some communities with focused multi-family collection programs collect material in 6-8 yard front end load (FEL) dumpsters (similar to the garbage and cardboard dumpsters we’ve all seen). This is one way to do it, if you already have FEL trucks. If you are starting a collection program, you will really need to crunch some numbers to see what makes the most financial sense. FEL trucks are typically more expensive to buy than side loading semi-automated and automated trucks, and they are historically more expense to maintain. In addition, the FEL dumpsters can easily become contaminated with bags of garbage or other bulky items.

My preference is to use automated side loading trucks, or semi-automated cart tippers for tight properties, to collect 95 gallon carts. On average 7-10 units can use 1 cart, but that depends on the community and how many units are on the property. Obviously if there are only 8 units, you may need 3 or 4 carts, but with large properties with 200 or more units, you can get away with 7 – 10 units per cart.

If you live in a community with many multi-family properties, I recommend a specific multi-family route. To put a perspective on what that looks like, I will explain Orange County’s (Chapel Hill, NC) multi-family program, one I managed for several years. This stand-alone program delivered to a County-run recycling transfer station. It consisted of one driver and one truck (they shared back-up drivers and back-up trucks with other recycling programs in the County). The driver collected over 95% of the multi-family properties in the County, which was a little over 200 properties and over 15,000 units. He collected each property once per week – roughly 40 properties per day. He drove a semi-automated truck with 2 cart tippers on both sides. Having the cart tippers on both sides made it easy to pull up to a line of carts on a property and dump carts from either side. Depending on the size of the property and the number of units, cart stations would be placed throughout the property with clear signage next to the garbage containers. Pairing the recycling and garbage collection areas cut down on contamination and increased the likelihood people would utilize the recycling service.

Obviously there is not a collection method that works for everyone, everywhere. The important take away is to understand your current recycling systems and the full community at large. Then take the time to incorporate your multi-family properties into that system. Your residents will appreciate it.