Increased recycling at apartments could reduce landfill waste; Apartments pose greater recycling challenges than single-family homes

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Increasing the amount of recycling at apartments in Deschutes County is being discussed as a way to drastically reduce waste in the Knott Landfill.

The county now recycles about 45,000 tons of material a year and composts another 35,000 tons. But 160,000 tons of garbage still ends up in the landfill, which is expected to be full by 2029. Deschutes County aims to recycle or compost 45 percent of its waste by 2025, and getting apartment renters to recycle more is one method the county’s solid waste advisory committee plans to recommend.

The county’s solid waste department and garbage collection firms know participation in recycling programs is low in multifamily buildings, but they’re not able to quantify just how apartment recycling rates compare to those in single-family homes. Most apartments in Bend have recycling available, said Brady Bailey, president of Bend Garbage & Recycling and a member of the county’s solid waste committee.

“We’ve been doing this a long time with our multifamily units,” Bailey said. “Almost all of them subscribe to our recycling program, but some do it better than others.”

Apartments inherently have more challenges when it comes to recycling than single-family homes, Bailey said. They often have less space to work with. While families in a single-family home receive a 95-gallon blue bin, an apartment complex with dozens of families may have space for just a few bins that fill up quickly.

Given the high price of land in Bend, developers of new apartments often look for ways to fit more units on a piece of land. They might provide a minimum number of parking spaces, or apply for an exemption that allows them to reduce the amount of open green space at the complex if it’s near a park. And devoting land to a recycling or garbage enclosure means less space for housing.

Apartment-dwellers don’t get the same level of communication with garbage and recycling providers as people who live in single-family homes, said Timm Schimke, director of Deschutes County’s solid waste department. Bend Garbage, for instance, provides new customers with collection calendars and guides for what can and can’t be recycled, but it’s up to apartment managers to share that information with their tenants.

“The problem is when you provide collection service to a multifamily unit like that, basically the garbage company’s dealing with the manager or owner,” Schimke said.

A 2015 change to Oregon’s recycling laws means apartment-dwellers in all Oregon cities with populations of 4,000 or more must be able to recycle by 2022. Because of that change, the state Department of Environmental Quality is working on a program to get promotional material about recycling into all tenants’ hands, Schimke said.

Making sure tenants receive the same message about recycling throughout Deschutes County and the state is important to discouraging what Schimke calls “wishful recycling,” he said.

“People move to Bend, they may have been able to recycle styrofoam where they came from and they think they can do it here,” he said. “Everybody’s recycling program is tailored to their area”

Communication about recycling also requires making sure people know that they need to separate their recyclable materials, Schimke said. Deschutes County requires glass to be put in a separate bin than paper and plastic, but some users still mix them together. Apartment-dwellers, who typically have longer trips to the bins, might not separate glass.

“We don’t have any new whizbang technologies,” Schimke said. “We rely on the generator separating their materials and bringing it to us.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2160; jshumway@bendbulletin.com

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