Recycling in Multifamily Housing UnitsApartment buildings and recycling bins

Toolkit for Apartment Managers and Owners

Most of the information in this toolkit is aimed toward multifamily apartment complexes, where curbside collection is not feasible. If you own or manage rental properties with five or more units, you'll find the suggestions in this kit very helpful. They can be implemented on a small or large scale to suit the needs of the units you manage.

Lunch & Learn: Recycling in Multi-Family Units

YouTube video Recorded February 20, 2018 (1:04:13)


Every human strongly identifies with the concept of home. Your work as a housing owner or manager is important to our community. You provide the walls and living environment that create the homes for many people in Lincoln. You have a big influence on your tenants' sense of "home sweet home." Your job is to manage the many tasks that need to be done to ensure the comfort, safety and overall well-being of your tenants. You are in charge of maintaining grounds, updating facilities, making repairs, ensuring sufficient heating and cooling and providing water service.

Waste disposal is also a big item on that list. Trash collection is extremely important for the safety, health and beauty of our community. The goal of this toolkit is to help you make recycling part of your waste management system. You'll learn how recycling can benefit your bottom line, provide a valuable service to your tenants, improve the marketability of your units and benefit the community.

The toolkit will show you how to accomplish the following:

  • Evaluate the current waste stream at your apartment complex.
  • Identify the necessary steps to initiate a recycling program.
  • Establish a system of recycling to ensure long-term participation and success.

Recycling at your apartment complex will set you apart from others in Lincoln. It will demonstrate that you have a focus on sustainability and the future. Your residents will value the ability to conveniently recycle, and you can add it to the list of selling points at your property.

Multifamily Recycling Background

Of all the ways we can reduce our impact on the environment, recycling is the easiest. Yet, residents of multifamily dwellings are far less likely to recycle than those who live in single-family homes. The reason is convenience. While curbside collection works well for single-family and duplex homes, it is difficult to standardize any type of collection procedure for multifamily apartment buildings. Because they vary greatly in size and layout, it's necessary for each apartment complex to have its own system.

The public recycling collection sites managed by the City are available for use by all residents, but are underused by apartment dwellers. A key reason for this is that apartments have limited space to store recyclables and tenants must make more frequent trips to the recycling sites.

Apartment owners and managers can increase recycling by their tenants by making it more convenient. One option is to offer onsite recycling, with containers for recyclables next to the waste containers. This guide will help you set up a recycling system for your apartment complex.

About Us

The City of Lincoln Waste Diversion and Recycling Office is part of the Solid Waste Management Division of the Transportation and Utilities Department. Our mission is to promote the diversion of waste from the sanitary landfill in an economically and environmentally sound manner in full partnership with the private sector.

Our goals are to:

  • Maintain effective residential recycling, composting, and waste reduction programs.
  • Promote commercial waste reduction and recycling.
  • Maintain an effective public outreach program which promotes waste reduction, recycling, and backyard composting.

This toolkit was developed to assist us in executing our mission and goals and was made possible through grant funds provided by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality. If you have any questions about this document or the City's recycling program, please call 402-441-8215 or email

Recycled paper can be manufactured into products like bathroom tissue

Recycling 101

"Recycling is the process of collecting and processing materials that would otherwise be thrown away as trash and turning them into new products." Source:

After being collected, recyclables are transported to a material recovery facility where they are sorted, baled and shipped to manufacturers for manufacturing new products. Some examples include shredded paper, chipped plastic, and glass granules which are bought and sold in regional, national and international markets. Purchasing goods made from recycled materials is the final stage of recycling.

Recycling arrows

Why Recycle?

Consider these two scenarios:

Sweatshirt This 100% fleece sweatshirt is made from 63 20-ounce #1 PET plastic bottles.

1. A waste hauler collects the garbage from the containers at your property and drives it to the landfill, where it is weighed and buried in the ground, where it will remain for many years. The hauler pays a fee based on the weight of the material and then charges you based on the number of containers they emptied, the amount of material collected, and the number of services trips they made.

2. A waste hauler collects your recyclables and your garbage. The garbage goes to the landfill, but it's a smaller amount, reducing disposal costs. The recyclables go to a material recovery facility, where they become a resource with monetary value. The recyclables are cleaned, processed and made into new products. New jobs are created to collect, process and transform the material into new products, which are sold in the market place, creating additional revenue. The energy required to make a product from recycled materials is less than the energy required to create the same product from raw materials. Fewer pollutants are emitted into the air and water, and less energy is consumed.

The space saved in the landfill saves taxpayer dollars by delaying the development of a new landfill. The waste hauler will charge you for the number of garbage containers they emptied, but you will use fewer or smaller containers. These savings help offset a portion of the cost to provide and service additional recycling containers.

Under both scenarios, residents have disposed the same amounts and types of material. But under the second scenario, you have saved taxpayer dollars, helped to create jobs and demonstrated your environmental stewardship.

How is the cost of waste services determined?

The cost to collect solid waste is typically determined by the amount of waste, the number of containers and the frequency of service. Also included in the price is the cost haulers pay to dispose of the material, including a landfill tipping fee ($16 per ton) and occupation tax ($9 per ton). Collectively, these fees — called a system rate — are $25 per ton for the Bluff Road Municipal Solid Waste Landfill. The money saved by reducing the number or size of containers, the frequency of collection and the disposal costs can help offset the cost of providing and servicing recycling containers.

STEP ONE -- Understand the Waste Stream at Your Property

Begin by collecting the following information:

  • The number of containers on your property
  • The size of the containers
  • The number of times per week the containers are serviced
  • The cost to collect the containers per service trip
  • The fullness of the containers at the time of collection

A past invoice from your waste hauler may provide some of this information. You also can walk around your property to determine the quantity, location and capacity of the containers on your site. Sketching a quick map may help you keep records.

To determine how full the containers are when they are emptied, have an employee check them the morning of collection or the night before. Use the worksheet in Appendix A PDF to keep track over time whether each container is one quarter, one half, three quarters or completely full.

This worksheet can help you determine if your current level of waste service is meeting your needs. It is important that you have sufficient container capacity to properly store waste during "peak" disposal periods. This may be in the spring and fall of the year if you have college students living you your units. You may be paying for more service than you need or you may need more containers.

After you collect data for a period of time, determine an average fullness for all of your containers. Use the worksheet in Appendix B PDF called "Understanding your Waste Stream: Capacity and Cost." Compare your total waste capacity to your actual waste generated. Now that you better understand the waste stream, call your current waste hauler or a recycling company to compare the cost of a trash-only pickup to a combined trash and recycling pickup.

Recycling is picked up at an apartment complex photo courtesy of Lincoln Journal/Star

STEP TWO -- Develop a Convenient Recycling System with the Help of a Recycler

A recycling system that works for your apartment complex depends on the layout of the buildings and lots. It should be just as easy for residents to recycle as it is for them to throw items away. That means placing recycling containers at or near all locations where garbage is currently collected.

You may choose to provide containers for single-stream (unsorted) recyclables. Note that glass is often collected separately because breakage makes the other recyclables less valuable. Another option is to have several containers marked for different recyclables. One apartment building in Lincoln uses a trash chute room on each floor to collect waste and recyclables separately.

Best Practices:

  • Clearly mark recycling and waste containers by using different colors or signage.
  • Collect recyclables at other commonly visited locations, including common areas, playgrounds, laundry rooms, mail depots and management offices.
  • Ensure that containers are visible and accessible to both residents and haulers.
  • Use gates, walls and plants to provide screening and discourage nonresident usage of the containers. The City's guidelines on landscaping and screening can be viewed at (Click on "Government" then "Departments" go to City's Attorney's site, then Design Standards and click on section 3.5). These guidelines are required only for new buildings, but can be used as a resource.

Avoid these areas:

  • Locations that pose problems for haulers, such as those with gravel or curbs and those with steep slopes or steps between the recycling area and the vehicle collection spot
  • Parking spots
  • Near windows or doors where residents may object
  • Near plants or vegetation that cause interference
  • Close to pedestrian walkways or busy streets
  • Isolated areas and those with poor lighting
  • Locations that are accessible or visible to nonresidents.

STEP THREE -- Inform and Engage Your Residents and Staff

Let tenants and employees know your recycling plans even before the containers arrive. An ongoing outreach strategy also is important. Here are some ideas:

  • Plan a potluck, picnic or open house to create awareness about recycling at your complex.
  • Publish an article about recycling in your newsletter. See examples in Appendix C PDF.
  • Distribute flyers to each apartment with information on the location of recycling containers and tips to recycle.
  • Use e-mail, a website and social media to provide information, updates and photos.
  • Include information on recycling in the move-in letter to new tenants. You'll find a sample letter in Appendix E PDF.

Informational signs and posters should be kept current and posted in common areas such as laundry rooms, mail depots, workout centers and the manager's office. Here are some tips for effective signs:

  • Make them easy to read with simple graphics and colors.
  • If you have residents whose primary language is not English, translate your educational materials.
  • Choose durable sign materials that will be protected from wind, rain, snow and sun. Replace damaged signs promptly.
  • Signs should include clear information on what can and cannot be recycled. Styrofoam, plastic bags, paper plates and drinking glasses are commonly mistaken as recyclables.
  • Signs should also include instructions on sorting, rinsing, crushing and the removal of caps and labels.
  • Photos and illustrations can help explain what goes in recycling containers.
Recycling outreach event

Your recycling hauler will help you identify the materials to be recycled and how they should be prepared. The hauler may have signs available showing the materials they collect. You'll find printable examples of signs in Appendix F PDF.

The success of your recycling program will rely on participation from your residents. The outreach tools described above should be used as part of a long-term program for your existing and new residents. Here are some creative ways to promote recycling participation:

  • Recruit a "green team" of apartment volunteers to provide internal maintenance and support for the program. The team could help to keep the collection site clean, to make sure materials are sorted properly, to help elderly or disabled residents recycle and to offer suggestions for improvement.
  • Have a contest among residents or buildings to see who can recycle the most or throw out the least.
  • Provide incentives like a rent discount for those who write recycling articles for the newsletter.

STEP FOUR -- Monitor and Track Your Program

You've done your research, talked to your waste hauler, arranged for recycling service and informed your residents. Now it's important to monitor and track your recycling system:

  • Report your results to residents through posters or newsletters. Your waste/recycling hauler(s) can provide you with information on the amount of material recycled and the amount going to the landfill. If you recycle 50 pounds and send 150 pounds to the landfill, your recycling rate is 25 percent (50 recycled pounds divided by 200 total pounds).
  • Maintain recycling sites to check for litter and contamination, and check the condition of signs.
  • Continue outreach and education to tenants and staff.

Checklist for a Successful Multifamily Recycling Program

  • Is recycling as convenient as trash disposal?
  • Is signage visible and understandable?
  • Do residents have enough information about the recycling system?
  • Does the recycling program have management and staff support?
  • Are maintenance staff and leasing agents trained to answer questions and promote recycling?
  • Is the program adequately monitored for cleanliness and to prevent contamination, overflow and trash?
  • Are accurate records kept to determine true cost or savings?
Containers photo courtesy of Lincoln Journal/Star

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What City ordinances do I need to follow?

A: There are no additional site requirements for adding recycling bins to your current waste collection system. However, adequate use of screening materials as described in Step Two will promote the safety, usefulness and aesthetic qualities of your property.

Q. Why should I offer recycling?

A: By reducing the amount of trash collection, you may be able to save money on your waste hauling bill, which could help off-set the cost of recycling. You can market your convenient recycling as a valuable amenity, and set yourself apart from the competition by demonstrating your leadership as a rental company that cares about the environment and the community.

Q. What problems might we face?

A: Contamination can be a challenge in recycling systems. This occurs when non-recyclable materials or containers with food residue are placed in the container and when materials are placed in the wrong recycling container. Contamination degrades the value of the materials for future use in manufacturing. If it is a consistent problem, your recycler may add fees. Contamination can be avoided by providing your residents with clear and consistent information as described in Step Three.

Q. Will this create extra work for me?

A: Most of the effort will come in the planning and implementation stages described in Steps One and Two. Implementing a recycling system may mean less work in the long-term, although it is important to continue education and outreach strategies and to monitor and track your program.

Q. How can I make sure my recycling program is successful?

A: Educate and engage your residents and staff. It's important to set a positive example by using the recycling system yourself. Take time to show residents how to recycle and introduce new residents to the recycling program.

Q. How should residents dispose of items such as electronics and household chemicals?

A: Some chemicals used in the home are toxic and should not be disposed with regular garbage. These include herbicides and pesticides, flea and tick products, gasoline, paint thinners and fluorescent tubes. Items like this should be taken to a household hazardous waste collection, hosted by the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department. For more information, visit (keyword: household).

Q. What options are available for recycling if it is not provided onsite?

A: You can encourage residents of multi-family units to use the public recycling collection sites located throughout the City. You'll find the recycling site closest to your apartment building at You can also create your own recycling system to collect accepted materials and transport it yourself instead of contracting with a hauler.