A new study says there is inadequate access to multifamily recycling, including mixed recycling and glass recycling service, at many multifamily buildings in the Portland metro area, according to the Multifamily Recycling Project.
The study was a collaborative project between Metro, the cities of Beaverton, Gresham and Portland, and Clackamas and Washington counties. The project focused on gathering and analyzing a range of data about garbage and recycling in apartment and condominium buildings with five or more units, across greater Portland.
The purpose of the project was to define what opportunities for improvement exist in multifamily garbage and recycling collection related to policy, infrastructure, and education, according to the study.
Key multifamily recycling project findings
- There is inadequate access to mixed recycling and glass recycling service at many multifamily sites. Capacity, or volume, of available garbage, mixed recycling, and glass recycling service is inconsistent from site to site. Less than weekly service of glass recycling or mixed recycling is problematic.
- The current collection equipment is inconsistent and confusing to those who use it.
- Contamination in the mixed recycling stream is high.
- Bulky waste is inadequately managed
More than 4,000 apartment and condominium building garbage and recycling accounts were analyzed to identify median per household, per week service levels for each collected stream. This information was then used to calculate the median household volume of garbage, mixed recycling, and glass recycling service, and the ratio of mixed recycling volume compared to garbage service volume.
“Less than weekly glass recycling service presents health and safety issues for people living in multifamily households. Bins can overflow and garbage and mixed recyclable materials litter collection areas. When a large quantity of glass collects outside of the bin water can be trapped for prolonged periods of time and broken glass presents a safety issue to children and adults accessing the area,” the study says.
Help needed for multifamily recycling efforts
Apartment residents typically have a high mobility rate, meaning they move more often and are more likely to encounter multiple garbage and recycling collection areas, according to the study.
A 2016 survey done by the National Apartment Association reports a turnover rate of 53 percent for market rate apartments. Put another way, 53 percent of people in rental apartment homes are “new” residents at that site every year. This includes people moving from site to site within the greater Portland area.
The high rate of turnover makes a simple, intuitive, easy-to-learn, and consistent system for collecting garbage and recyclables extremely important.
Bulky waste collection an additional issue
The term “bulky waste” includes furniture such as sofas, chairs, dressers, console televisions, mattresses, appliances, and larger size pieces of carpet and carpet pad.
Bulky waste has long been, and currently is, inadequately addressed within the multifamily garbage and recycling collection system. Under current service provisions, bulky waste is an “on call” service at the property manager’s request, with a separate, additional charge for service.
Bulky waste can create unsafe and unhealthy situations in garbage and recycling areas. It negatively contributes to people’s experience and perception of their garbage and recycling service.
92 property managers interviewed for the study
The study said 92 property managers were interviewed for the waste characterization study, and 57 percent used their collection company to handle bulky waste at their site.
People in multifamily households do not feel empowered to address bulky waste with their property managers, according to the study. It said discussion group participants cited fear of retaliation as a reason not to approach the property manager.
“Property managers do not always have, or provide, correct information to tenants about how to deal with bulky waste,” the study said.
Due to high household turnover, multifamily households may generate bulky waste at a greater rate than single-family households. Bulky waste is a material stream at multifamily sites in need of an apartment and condominium household-specific solution, the study said.
The report said there are some options local governments can do without a policy change to improve conditions. In addition, the study outlined changes that could be made to regional waste plans.
Options to change multifamily recycling in the regional waste plan
- Require per unit, service volume minimum standards (gallons/unit/week) for garbage, mixed recycling, and glass recycling material streams.
- Require weekly mixed recycling and glass recycling service.
- Set a standard for bin colors.
- Require use of standardized signage at all multifamily sites in the region.
- Require regular bulky waste service.
- Develop garbage and recycling collection area model ordinance or design guidelines for new construction and significant remodel of multifamily sites.