Recycling: Before You Start

By Johnson, Michael; Parrott, Kathleen | Journal of Property Management, July/August 1994 | Go to article overview

Recycling: Before You Start

Johnson, Michael, Parrott, Kathleen, Journal of Property Management

Developing successful recycling programs in apartment communities is challenging, requiring the cooperation of both management and residents. A poorly developed, designed, or managed program is not likely to be effective and may not be in compliance with local regulations.

As the need for recycling programs in apartment communities has increased, the industry has responded by focusing on issues such as types of collection containers, transportation services, contracts or markets for recycled materials, and recycling clauses in leases. While these are important, little attention appears to be focused on resident attitudes, awareness, and involvement in recycling issues-the foundation of any successful recycling program.

In an effort to fill some of the information gaps, we conducted a survey to address just these issues. The survey focused on resident recycling knowledge, attitudes, and behavior and was sent to approximately 2,600 residents at 46 apartment complexes in Virginia.

The results of the study may help residential property managers understand their tenants, and at the same time create a more successful recycling program.

A rather surprising 51 percent of the respondents said that they recycled regularly although only 14 percent reported that recycling was mandatory in their locale. Those in garden apartments (57 percent) were more likely to recycle than those in high rise apartments (38 percent), and families (53 percent) were more likely to recycle than elderly residents (44 percent).


The respondents were surprisingly uninformed about recycling issues and those who recycled scored only slightly better than the non-recyclers on the recycling knowledge portion of the survey. Although residents of garden apartments were more likely to recycle, they were not much more knowledgeable than residents of high-rise buildings.

The same comparison is true of families and elderly. Figure 1 shows the percent of respondents with the correct answer to the questions asked, by category of respondent.(Figure 1 omitted)

We suggest that the apparent lack of knowledge about recycling on the part of the residents could have a significant impact on the success of a recycling program. Improper sorting of recyclable materials may result from a lack of knowledge regarding recycling symbols and terms.

In a jurisdiction where recycled materials must be separated for pick-up, contaminated recycling containers might result in rejected loads, leaving the property with a container that must be sorted by the staff or sent to the landfill.

In some areas, contaminated containers result in fines or other penalties. Also, well-informed residents are presumed to be more aware of the need to recycle, and thus more responsive to efforts by the on-site staff to begin a recycling program. These residents are also more likely to actively participate.

As might be expected, aluminum was the most commonly recycled material (72 percent) followed by paper/cardboard (69 percent), and plastic (47 percent). The figure reported by the respondents for plastic is somewhat higher than the one reported in other studies and may reflect their general lack of knowledge about recycling.

The respondents may be assuming that all plastic with the resin identification symbol (chasing arrows around a number code) is recyclable and are subsequently mixing non-recyclable and recyclable plastics. Depending on local recycling programs and their sorting capabilities, mixing resins can contaminate a load, leading to the problems described above.

Plastic code is used to identify plastics by resins to facilitate recycling. The resin code does not signify recyclability. Typically, codes one and two are recycled, six occasionally, and three, four, five, and seven almost never.

The mix of recyclable materials identified in this study, the recycled materials for which there is a local market, and those materials targeted for recycling by the local jurisdiction is information that will assist the property manager in choosing a site, type, and the number of containers appropriate for each type of recyclable material as well as developing recycling management strategies. …

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