According to the Association of Bay Area Governments, there is a rising demand for apartments and condominiums in our area. That residential sector's solid waste stream is thus growing as well.

Typically, apartment and condo dwellers recycle less than a quarter of what they toss out, whereas single family residents recycle over 60 percent. Because California is moving toward an even higher overall landfill diversion goal of 75 percent, getting those multifamily residents' recycling participation is crucial.

The state of California agrees, and has included the multifamily sector in 2011 legislation, Assembly Bill 341. That regulation requires complexes with shared garbage service and five or more units to have a recycling program. Providing recycling collection for residents doesn't always mean they will participate. Apartment dwellers are, by nature, much more transient than single-family homeowners. According to the National Apartment Association, the average turnover rate for typical apartments is 57 percent per year, and the typical resident is younger than 30. Both of these factors tend to contribute to what could be called "recycling apathy."


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Even if an apartment or condo resident does care about recycling, there may be other factors hindering their participation. For example, space limitations could be at play, both inside a tenant's unit and outside in their trash enclosure.

While these and other issues are seen as barriers to increasing multifamily recycling, there are solutions. Some are easier to develop and implement, while some require a longer-term strategy. For instance, many California jurisdictions are increasing outreach to complexes' property managers and residents. The Central Contra Costa Solid Waste Authority has developed and distributed outreach materials for both of these audiences, hoping to create interest in waste reduction and recycling programs that are already available.

The solid waste authority understands that while these types of efforts will have some beneficial results, the agency may have to take a more functional approach to gain longer-term success. In San Jose, apartments' solid waste is being sent to a "material recovery facility" where the trash is sorted mechanically and recyclables are recovered. This means that even if an apathetic tenant tosses their soda can into the garbage Dumpster, it will still be reclaimed and recycled.

While neither outreach nor mechanization is a panacea for what ails multifamily recycling programs, used consistently and in concert, these approaches can help carve out a higher diversion rate in the coming years. That is especially important given the growth in this type of housing and increasing recycling requirements.

If you live in an apartment or condo in Alamo, Blackhawk, Danville, Lafayette, Moraga, Orinda or Walnut Creek and don't have a recycling program yet, please let me know -- e-mail me at lois@wastediversion.org.