Recycling in Multifamily Dwellings: Does Convenience Matter?

Article excerpt

Factors that decrease the the cost of recycling have significant positive correlations with recycling rates in multifamily dwellings (MFDs). Waste-management experts have previously used anecdotes to infer a link between convenience and waste-diversion rates in MFD recycling programs. This article confirms and quantifies that link by applying probit and double-censored to bit analysis to survey data from 214 households in Urbana, Illinois. We find a strong connection between recycling rates and the perceived presence of adequate interior space for processing recyclables, and distance to recycling bins affects container-recycling intensity. The results have implications for cost-effective design of MFD recycling programs. (JEL DI, Q2)


Statistics from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show that from 1960 to 1997, U.S. recycling rates rose from 6.4% to 28%, and 9,000 curbside recycling programs were established (EPA 1998). Such programs have traditionally been geared toward single-family dwellings (SFDs); conventional doctrine has been that recycling activity is likely to be limited in multifamily dwellings (MFDs). However, as residential recycling rates for SFDs plateau in the United States, solid-waste managers and policy makers are becoming increasingly interested in MFD recycling programs. By now, at least half of all MFDs may have access to a curbside recycling program (EPA 2001). Stevens (1999) and the EPA (1999, 2001) show that waste-diversion rates (the fraction of a household's waste that is recycled instead of discarded as refuse) tend to be slightly lower in MFDs than in SFDs, but some MFD recycling programs have yielded diversion rates as high as 60%.

What factors influence the recycling rates chosen by residents of MFDs? In a detailed nationwide study, the EPA (2001) found that "successful" (20% or higher diversion rate) MFD recycling programs tended to have large and numerous containers provided by the recycling service. Waste-management experts emphasize the importance of convenience in yielding high waste-diversion rates in MFD recycling programs, with some "record-setting" programs using strategies like doorstep pickup of recyclables in high-rise apartment buildings (EPA 1999).

Such anecdotes are intriguing. However, although much work has studied SFD recycling behavior, little has been done to explore MFD recycling in a rigorous statistical fashion. A number of economists have studied the sensitivity of recycling behavior to pricing policies that alter the costs and benefits of recycling relative to disposal. (1) Another body of work has investigated the influence of nonpecuniary policies and variables on recycling in SFDs. Work by Vining and Ebreo (1990) and Ebreo and Vining (2000) supports the notion that convenience may increase the number of people that identify themselves as recyclers. However, their data are strictly qualitative; the earlier study dates from a time when only community drop-off recycling was available, and the later study is focused on public attitudes toward and expectations regarding changes in recycling policy. Jakus et al. (1996, 1997) use economic models and rigorous empirical analysis to study the influence on actual recycling behavior of recycling promotional campaigns and policies to alter the time cost of recycling. They find evidence that recycling participation is not a function of home ownership or renting status per se; however, these articles do not delve into the details of MFD recycling because the data were collected in the context of rural drop-off recycling.

A few studies have turned their attention to MFD recycling. Stevens (1999) finds that programs with high aggregate diversion rates are likely to have a relatively large ratio of collection bins to households. McQuaid and Murdoch (1996) conduct a qualitative analysis of MFD recycling in Edinburgh that suggests that housing characteristics, such as floor level, presence of an elevator, and household size, may influence recycling rates. …