10 Easy Steps to Kick Start a Recycling Program in your Community

Magazine ,

By Patti Girardi


Nearly all Americans support recycling and 75 percent say it should be a priority, according to a recent survey by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. Yet the average national recycling rate is only about 35 percent, which means two-thirds of our waste winds up in landfills, incinerators, or as litter. A growing percentage of Americans live in apartments, yet many multifamily communities do not have a recycling program in place. If yours is among them, here is a step-by-step plan to begin recycling.

Step 1.     Browse Your City’s Website

The first step is to familiarize yourself with your city’s recycling mandates. Type in “recycling” in the search bar of your city’s website, and from there you will have a plethora of information at your fingertips. Key things you should look for include:

  • What your city recycles.
  • What your city does not recycle.
  • Recycling mandates.
  • The guidelines and requirements for multifamily communities.
  • Recycling plan sheets and applications.
  • Locations to recycle electronic waste
  • Sanitary waste contact information.
  • Recycling fliers.

Step 2. Create a Team

Compose a team of individuals who will be responsible for the upkeep of the program. Appoint a key recycling coordinator who will oversee the operation. Make sure that this team is motivated and enthusiastic about going green.

Step 3.  Conduct a Waste Assessment 

Determine what your current trash waste stream consists of. Visually inspect the contents of your community’s waste, and list the components (paper, food containers, plastic, food waste, etc.). This will help you prioritize which items you need to recycle. Set an assessment period (for example, record daily for 2-3 weeks).

Step 4. Create a Plan

Outline your program’s vision, mission, and objectives. Your plan should keep you organized, goal oriented, and specific. Be intentional with this step. Double-check whether you are required by your city to submit a recycling plan or application.

Step 5. Decide What to Recycle

Deciphering what to recycle may seem to be the easiest step, but it can be a challenge. Be specific and thorough to prevent confusion amongst your residents. Compile a list of alternatives for non-recyclables. This way if your residents want to recycle things that can simply be reused, you have a solution ready. You can do so by checking your city’s website for city-approved stations for electronic waste, medical waste, and furniture and other donations . Lastly, make sure you contact your city’s sanitary services to find out what isn’t accepted.

Step 6. Determine How to Collect

Once again, reference your city and state recycling mandates to identify the requirements for collection and processing. Your collection system is a fundamental aspect of the success of your program. Consider these questions:

  • Who will sort the materials?
  • Will your program collect using curbside methods or recycling drop-off centers?
  • Will you outsource the collection to a third-party contractor?
  • What are your designated service days and hours?
  • What type of collection bins receptacles will you use?
  • Will you enforce mixed, single stream, or no-separation recycling?

Double check your city’s recycling mandates; certain cities require a specific format for collection.

Step 7. Have a Prevention Plan to Reduce Waste

It’s easy to forget to focus on how you are producing waste when implementing a recycling program. A major key is to grasp an understanding behind the “why” of your waste stream. You will need your entire team on board for this step, including third-party haulers (if used).  The prevention plan would be determined by the audit that was held at your community. For example, if your audits show that your residents throw away cardboard the most, your prevention plan should depict how you can decrease that specific waste stream. This step is all about preventing mishaps in your recycling process.

Step 8. Educate, Educate, Educate

This step is crucial to an effective recycling program. Create informative collateral and events for your residents. Consider enlisting a supplier partner to provide this for you. Make sure your partner understands the ins and out of your program. Distribute fliers to all current residents and to future residents when they move in days; have reoccurring recycling events to get your residents pumped and excited. Keep them sweet, simple, fun, and to the point. Often you can download free fliers and other educational materials on your city’s website. Lastly make sure you are abiding by the educational requirement of your municipality; most require multifamily communities to follow an educational requirement over a certain period.

Step 9. Brief Your Staff

Brief your maintenance, custodial, and office staff about the best recycling practices and the details of your program.

Step 10. Share!

Finally, brag about the results and share the progress with your team, city, staff, and residents. This can be tied back to Step 8. You can choose to throw a recycling results bash, or you can also send out monthly updates sharing your success. This step will serve as encouragement and continued cooperation for the recycling program.

Recycling Tips & Facts 

  • When recycling glass/plastic containers, make sure to wash thoroughly to avoid grease contamination.
  • Cut off the section of your pizza boxes that have grease .
  • Break down your cardboard boxes before recycling.
  • Inquire about composting (for food waste).
  • Recycle plastic bags by returning them to your local grocery store.
  • Use your own The average office worker in the U.S. uses roughly 500 disposable cups each year.
  • Make use of reusable straws. Americans use 500 million plastic drinking straws every day.
  • Reduce your trash. Approximately 40% of the municipal solid waste that makes up our landfill is paper and cardboard.

Recycling does more than ignite the feel-good chemicals in our brain:  It’s a growing industry with promising results for our economy. Be a change agent and get your residents on board with living green.


Patti Girardi is chief marketing officer for Valet Living.