Starting Down the Right Stream for Recycling Success

Operators must be strategic when implementing a recycling program for residents to ensure it’s efficient, effective and easy, explains Graham Rihn of RoadRunner Recycling.
Graham Rihn

More than 30 percent of people in the U.S. live in multifamily properties. In many cases, these individuals do not have access to recycling. However, many cities are passing laws to help with waste reduction. For example, on Jan. 1, 2020, the City of Dallas implemented an ordinance that requires all multifamily properties with eight or more units to aid in recycling efforts.

These properties must provide recycling containers to residents within visible distance of garbage containers. They must also include posters or signs in common areas that discuss how to recycle at the property. Further, they are required to educate residents on the program upon lease commencement and biannually thereafter. Finally, they must provide a yearly submission of their recycling plan to the City of Dallas and maintain records to make them available if requested by the city.

This can be a daunting task for multifamily property operators who are unfamiliar with the best practices and costs associated with the recycling process. As the average American generates about 1.5 tons of solid waste every year, it’s the property manager’s duty to provide them with recycling programs that divert as much waste as possible from landfills.

Further, everything mentioned above is compounded amid COVID-19 with more individuals home than ever before. With many residents unable to pay rent due to income challenges, building managers are under increasing pressure to cut costs.

During such unprecedented times, multifamily operators must be strategic when implementing a recycling program for residents to ensure it’s efficient, effective and easy for residents to buy into and participate in.

Conduct a Waste Audit

Conducting a waste audit on a semiannual or annual basis will give property managers important insights into the overall effectiveness of their current waste management operations. While the phrase sounds intimidating, property owners can follow a few simple steps to uncover pertinent details around the types of waste and recyclables their residents generate. A waste audit will help property owners/managers assess the current state of their waste operations and identify opportunities to recycle more, increase landfill diversion and reduce operational costs.

Properties should audit their residents’ waste for one week and use their current dumpsters/containers as storage for the materials being audited. Next, they should collect and store all waste and recycling materials and sort them by stream. These include landfill waste (everything that can’t be recycled), mixed paper, compost, single-stream recyclables (plastics, metals, glass) and any other materials they generate in high volume.

Next, operators should analyze the results, by weighing each stream, to determine if the actual results match the property’s current service levels. By doing this, the operator will determine if there is an opportunity to reduce the size of the containers (right-sizing), decrease the service frequency (number of pick-ups) or determine if additional services are needed.

For large properties or multi-location establishments, operators should consider bringing on a partner to help manage the waste audit and any necessary actions that come from it.

Consider Clean-Stream over Single-Stream

One of the best ways property managers and owners can save money and generate more return from their recyclables is by moving away from single-stream recycling and employing a clean-stream method.

Single-stream recycling refers to the standard method of recycling in which all materials (paper, plastics, metals, glass, cardboard and food waste) are mixed together in one dumpster. While this seems like it’s the easiest method, it leads to significantly lower recycling rates and higher operational costs, because many issues arise after materials are picked up and taken to recycling sorting centers. For example, one greasy pizza box can lead to contamination of an entire load.

Alternatively, a clean-stream process puts emphasis on retaining a material’s end value. Residents will separate materials into various receptacles based on the type of item: cardboard, commingled (glass, aluminum, plastic), mixed paper and compost.

This method is entirely customizable depending on the materials residents discard most frequently, which emphasizes the need to conduct a waste audit. The audit can inform which streams property operators should offer their residents. By implementing a clean-stream program, property owners can drive significant cost savings and boost their sustainability efforts.

Educate and Provide Signage

Recycling can be confusing and the best way to boost adoption among residents is to provide signage that minimizes that confusion. Property managers should add marked signage with images that are easily visible on all waste receptacles to take the guesswork out of what to recycle, what to compost and what to send to the landfill. This can be taken a step further by property owners also assigning a color to each waste stream and ensuring the signage matches.

Further, before kicking off the program, it’s important to provide all residents with a notification and background on the program, the positive impact it will make and what will be expected of them. This communication should explain collection methods, best practices and appropriately define the resources that are available for residents if they have any questions.

Adding recycling to multifamily properties is no longer a “nice to have,” it’s a must-have in many locations. It’s every property manager’s duty to do his or her part to help combat America’s recycling problem. By following a few simple steps, multifamily properties can be on the right stream to recycling success. This will help them to reduce their environmental footprint, increase recycling rates and landfill diversion and reduce associated waste costs.


Graham Rihn is the founder & CEO of RoadRunner Recycling. The company provides custom recycling and waste solutions engineered to improve waste stream management and serves thousands of commercial businesses from more than 20 industries including health care, manufacturing, education, retail and hospitality.