Pilot program analyzes multifamily recycling trends

A five-month pilot program in multifamily locations in Boston has demonstrated an increase in recycling, specifically for old corrugated containers (OCC). The pilot program was sponsored by the Rolling Meadows, Illinois-based Fibre Box Association, and was conducted by Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Resource Recycling Systems (RRS) and with support from the city of Boston.

According to a news release from RRS, the pilot was conducted to test the ability of more frequent, direct, and specific communication practices as well as consistent interactions with building management to increase the recovery of OCC in multifamily residences. The pilot program delivered printed handouts to each resident and provided signage at specific drop-off locations throughout the multifamily buildings.

“With e-commerce growing to $600 billion in 2019 and brick-and-mortar retail on the decline, residential recovery of OCC is critical to securing feedstock to manufacture containerboard and corrugated cardboard boxes. Residential recovery of OCC is currently below 50 percent and contamination is high when compared to distribution centers and retail,” says Dennis Colley, president, and CEO of the Fibre Box Association.

A baseline audit measuring OCC in the trash and recycling collection bins was conducted in early February 2019, followed by the distribution of communication materials in mid-February, March, and July. A final audit was conducted in July 2019.

The multifamily dwellings consisted of an apartment building containing 200 rental units, and two condominium buildings of 160 and 60 units each. Key findings from the pilot include:

  • apartment building (No. 1 location) increased the OCC recovery rate from 46.3 percent to 89.9. percent;
  • condominium collection (No. 2 location) was already recovering OCC at the rate of 86.3 percent but was able to increase to 97.6 percent during the pilot program time frame, and
  • condominium collection (No. 3 location) encountered collection issues. However, some measurements were obtained and indicated a significant increase in OCC recycling at this location.

“This project highlighted the need to communicate with all stakeholders in a multifamily setting – residents, building managers, city of Boston managers, recycling coordinators, and waste and recycling haulers,” says David Refkin, affiliate senior consultant with RRS. “In addition, regular and consistent communications are needed especially in rental communities where residents can change more frequently.”

According to the US Census Bureau, multifamily buildings (buildings with two or more units) accounted for approximately 30 percent of all new privately-owned housing units started in the US in 2018.

“Multifamily dwellings can be a significant contributor to the recovery of valuable materials. The tools developed to increase multifamily recycling in the Boston pilot program can be utilized for other multifamily buildings throughout the United States,” Refkin adds.

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