Mandatory Recycling: A Tale of Two Texas Cities
As the adoption of mandatory reporting for energy benchmarking in the multifamily industry continues to grow in cities across America, it should come as no surprise that mandatory recycling programs are also becoming more popular.
But getting everybody onboard with such a program is easier said than done. Some of the burden for cost and compliance falls in to the hands of property management companies and apartment communities—and neither is particularly pleased about it.
We spoke with representatives of two Texas apartment associations to learn about the growing pains and headaches they are encountering in the face of mandatory recycling programs.
Dallas in Early Stages of Mandatory Recycling
The Apartment Association of Greater Dallas intends to form a team of area property leaders to sift through the city’s new recycling plan over the next few years. Getting everybody on board may be easier said than done. Effective recycling in multifamily is like herding cats, if you listen to some.
By 2019, Dallas apartments will need to be in full compliance with the zero waste Local Solid Waste Management Plan the City Council passed in late February. The approval culminates years of work to become Texas’ second zero waste city after Austin.
While the plan is voluntary for residents, apartments must put the pieces in place. That means working with waste/recycling companies to have bins available for residents to place plastics, glass, paper and other recyclables for pickup. With this come cost and logistical headaches.
“I will tell you this is not something that anybody embraces enthusiastically,” said Kathy Carlton, AAGD’s director of government affairs. “It’s another service that has to be negotiated and paid for.”
Dallas will join Austin, Fort Worth and San Antonio as cities that will have to offer recycling for apartment dwellers. Most agree that recycling is good for the planet, but the expense and problems that arise from separating recyclables from waste are cumbersome.
Properties usually incur the recycling cost from the hauler and have to recoup money from residents in the form of rent increases. As Carlton says, it’s not prudent to divide up the cost and “send a bill for $3.65” to the resident.
Fears of contamination, storage issues for recycling bins and bags, educating residents and, ultimately, lack of participation further cloud implementation.
Austin Finds Mandatory Recycling Comfort Level
After wrestling with the city over its Commercial/Multifamily Recycling Ordinance since 1999, the Austin apartment community finally found a comfort level with providing a recycling resource for residents. In 1999 the city required multifamily properties with 100 units or more to collect and separate a minimum of four materials. Since then, Austin Apartment Association members have volleyed back and forth with the city to create a workable approach.
Capacity issues, contamination and education were most frequently discussed. Bill Roland, the Austin Apartment Association’s past president, said getting the deal done was a tedious process and that Dallas property owners can expect the same.
If not for Austin’s decision to drop requirements for separating recyclables, tension would still be high. Recently, Austin amended its ordinance to include single-stream recycling, the process where all recyclables can be placed in a single container for pickup by the hauling company.
“One of the biggest things that really helped it along is the single-stream,” said Roland, principal at Granite Properties of Texas. “When this started, everything was separated and it was a nightmare. Not only were people contaminating, but we didn’t have physical space.”
Another issue was agreeing on recycling capacity per resident. Initially, the city wanted apartments to provide 64 gallons of capacity for every six units; apartment association officials and owners held out for every 10 units. Aside from disagreement on who should educate residents, Roland said the system is finally working.
Now large recycling bins are placed next to trash dumpsters at properties with 75 or more units. Later this year, apartments with a minimum of 50 units will join the program.
“If it can work anywhere, it can work in Austin,” Roland said. “It’s across the board. You tend to get better participation in the upper income group, and you do really poorly on the lower end.
“I think we are really making some strides.”
Single-Stream Key to Successful Recycling Program
By 2040, Dallas plans to be a zero waste city. The new ordinance calls for diverting 40 percent of the city’s trash from the landfill by 2020 and 60 percent by 2030.
Over the next six years, apartments must devise a way to comply.
To get the ball rolling, Carlton will create a task force of representatives from the major property management companies. She hopes the city will provide education for residents so apartments won’t feel that they alone have to make the plan work.
“What we’ve seen in a lot of cities is that onus is put on the property, but there is no education of residents,” she said. “So (residents) don’t know what to recycle, don’t know what can and cannot go into dumpsters, and they don’t know how to separate. Our belief is that it’s not up to the apartment manager to be a recycling expert and be able to educate.”
In a perfect world, the city could offer door-to-door pickup or contract out with companies that specialize in this. But Carlton knows that’s pie in the sky because of the cost.
She anticipates that, like in Austin, resident participation will be stronger in some areas than in others. In the meantime, she and the task force will begin what some believe will be a grueling process.
Roland’s advice to Carlton and Dallas apartment leaders?
“Make sure the single-stream is part of the program, and make sure space requirements are not too onerous. Same goes for quotas of materials. You cannot be required to divert a certain amount of trash. I think it should be voluntary.”
Are any of your apartment communities located in a city that requires recycling? How do you educate your residents about the facts and myths of recycling?