What recycling law means for multifamily housing

Recycling is such a part of everyday life that most of us don’t think twice about it anymore. Tossing our plastic bottles, glass jars and newspapers into a recycling bin is now a habit that takes little effort.

Properly disposing of recyclables should be just as easy for residents and property managers in multifamily housing.

We recycle not only because it’s easy or good for the environment — it’s also legally required. California’s Mandatory Apartment and Condominium Recycling Law took effect nearly 18 months ago. Before the law was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, the recycling rate among the state’s apartment residents was only 15 percent.

This law was a natural step for the state, following previous measures toward reducing greenhouse gases and diverting waste from landfills. The state now requires that 75 percent of waste be diverted from landfills by 2020.

The San Diego County Apartment Association informed members of the new state recycling requirements well in advance, resulting in a smooth transition. Related city and county of San Diego ordinances took effect long before the state’s 2012 law, so many of our region’s multifamily housing properties already had implemented recycling protocols with great success.

With San Diego’s Miramar Landfill running out of space — it’s scheduled to close in 2022 — local municipalities are taking it a step further, turning their environmental goals to “zero waste,” which means diverting all waste through such environmentally friendly means as recycling, conservation and composting.

A San Diego City Council committee recently received a plan from city staff that would divert all waste by 2040. And such a lofty goal is not unusual. More than a dozen cities in California have zero-waste policies, such as Oakland, San Francisco and Oceanside.

With a renewed focus on conservation, now is a good time to revisit what’s required of multifamily housing property managers and residents, and why.

The city of San Diego’s ordinance requires multifamily complexes to recycle all papers, cardboard, cans, and plastic and glass bottles and jars — and tenants are responsible for separating recyclables and getting them to the proper containers.

State guidelines for multifamily housing recycling suggest that successful programs are not one-size-fits-all, and that convenience for residents must be a key consideration. Property managers have to adjust recycling programs depending on a site’s size and layout, tenant profiles or trash disposal systems.

The most successful programs generally provide residents with curbside collection — convenience — that easily coexists with waste management systems already in place.

Some communities go the extra mile to ensure that recycling is truly convenient, with front-door pickup service.

Although most of us take recycling for granted, having an outreach and education plan for your residents is still important. With the new year coming, now is a good time to encourage residents to make a resolution to recycle more.

Include reminders of recycling bin locations in newsletters and posters, and include photos or lists of items that can and cannot be recycled. Finally, encourage feedback from your residents.

Beyond environmental and legal reasons for diverting waste, we encourage property managers to recycle as much as possible simply for their bottom line — recycling can help reduce the costs of trash service.

For more guidelines and program suggestions, visit SDCAA’s “Recycling at Rental Properties” resource page and the state’s CalRecycle site.

Pentico is executive director of the San Diego County Apartment Association.

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