Multifamily Recycling: An Opportunity to Reach Zero Waste - Austin, TX

- Wednesday, January 14, 2015

As one of the fastest-growing large cities in the U.S., Austin Texas attracts 100+ new residents a day. Due to a tight housing market, most of these transplanted ‘Austinites’ rent apartments, condos or other multifamily units. While curbside recycling is the norm for Austin homeowners, many rental properties don’t yet offer recycling pickup.

At the multifamily properties that do offer recycling, the influx of new residents and frequent turnover leads to contamination issues and a need for ongoing education. In addition, when recycling containers are placed too far away from trash containers, some tenants choose not to participate due to inconvenience.

Despite these challenges, multifamily properties offer enormous potential for achieving Austin’s waste diversion goals. With 734,270 apartment units, multifamily housing makes up about 47 percent of the total housing stock in Austin.

To meet this challenge head on, the Austin City Council adopted an ordinance that requires commercial and multifamily properties to provide their employees and tenants with convenient access to recycling. This city ordinance, labeled the Universal Recycling Ordinance (URO), phases in recycling access requirements over a series of years. By Oct. 1, 2016, all multifamily properties in Austin will be required to provide recycling services.

Their approach is unique in that the requires are being phased in over several years, starting with the largest properties. This gives smaller properties more time to prepare and put infrastructure in place.

To ensure successful implementation, stakeholders are involved early in the ordinance development process. The ordinance impacts all commercial properties, so the Austin Resource Recovery team held a series of stakeholder meetings with a wide variety of industry types, including retail, grocery, healthcare, multifamily and commercial properties, as well as member associations, environmental groups and private haulers. The recommendations that came out of these meetings were included in the ordinance and rules for implementation.

To meet the requirements of the ordinance, multifamily properties must take the following five steps:

  • Recyclable Materials: Provide recycling for plastics No. 1 & No. 2, paper, cardboard, glass and aluminum. Substitute materials may be proposed on the Annual Diversion Plan.
  • Convenience and Capacity: All trash collection service containers or other collection points must have a recycling container within 25 feet. Multifamily and Commercial properties must meet certain minimum recycling service capacity to avoid “token recycling” efforts.
  • Signage: All signs must indicate the recyclable materials accepted and use graphic illustrations, stated in both English and Spanish languages.
  • Annual Education: Educate new employees and tenants within 30 days of hire or move-in and annually thereafter.
  • Annual Diversion Plan: Submit online each year between Oct. 1 and Feb. 1.

Austin Resource Recovery has a team of experts who provide free consulting services to help property owners and managers understand the ordinance requirements and provide guidance on ways to improve or expand recycling programs. The team offers free training sessions, sends speakers to events and conducts onsite waste assessments. Online resources are available, such as signage templates, capacity calculators and tips for educating employees and tenants.

Advice for other cities looking to implement a similar ordinance?

  1. Listen to the multifamily housing industry and get them on board early. Take their recommendations into consideration before ordinance adoption.
  2. Listen to multifamily residents. Tenants are a key factor in driving demand for recycling services.
  3. Create a list of standardized rules that can be easily implemented, to encourage best practices in serving the site tenants.
  4. Plan compliance techniques and acquire proper resources before implementation of the ordinance.
  5. Present the requirements as a means toward the city waste diversion goals, and avoid portraying the rules as new city “regulations.”

As cities like Austin grow and change, listening and engaging with the community is critical to zero waste’s success.

Please visit Fibrex Group to discover the latest products to help you reach zero waste. Our latest dual recycling container, the Revolve Recycler is an attractive cart housing for 95-gallon carts for use at housing communities, universities, resorts, military bases, etc. Or give us a call at 1-800-346-4458.

*Previously posted on by Bob Gedert, director of the Austin Resource Recovery Department