Apartment Recycling is Very Much Alive
Stacks of plastic bottles for recycling against a blue sky

Recycling at apartment communities continues to have a strong heartbeat, despite the myths that repurposing refuse isn’t happening and is no longer worthwhile.

Half of multifamily operators who tuned in for the November industry webcast, “Turning Cash Into Trash,” had recently started recycling programs at their communities. Another quarter of respondents said they’re considering beginning a program.

COVID-19 and other anomalies in recent months put the squeeze on recycling, but growing demand for consumer products is adding new life to one of sustainability’s basic calling cards. An increase in shipping cartons resulting from recent surges in online shopping, coupled with higher raw materials costs for aluminum cans, paper, and other recyclables attributed to supply chain glitches, contribute to boosting recycling.

When asked during the webcast if recycling had run its course, RealPage Vice President of Sustainability, Mary Nitschke emphasizes, “No!”

“It’s not dead,” she says. “I understand where this question comes from. You think about what’s happening in the supply chain today: the cost of materials has risen. And so, it’s actually really profitable for a lot of places to recycle if they can get clean recyclables.”

U.S. recycling suffered a setback prior to the pandemic when some overseas processors stopped accepting recyclables because of high labor costs resulting from contaminated shipments.

About two years ago, China rejected all U.S. recyclables, which included up to 1,000 shipping containers a day. Processors claimed the shipments contained trash and required more labor to separate items.

Following reports surfaced that bottles, cans, paper, plastic, and other recyclables were diverted to landfills because some municipalities halted recycling programs.

Overflowing opportunities for recycling

Today, the U.S., including the Environmental Protection Agency, is taking a renewed look at recycling. On Nov. 15, America Recycles Day, the EPA released its National Recycling Strategy, which aims to improve municipal recycling across the country. The plan details how the U.S. can achieve a 50% recycling rate by 2030, roughly a 20% increase in the next nine years.

Also, the U.S. plastic industry is making strides in advanced recycling using new technologies to complement traditional mechanical recycling.

Nitschke says that the bottleneck with China has created more opportunities for U.S. recycling to accelerate as materials prices have skyrocketed.

“Recycling is actually teeming,” she says. “That pressure from China has resulted in a lot more manufacturing occurring within the U.S., and recycling is not debris. It’s a material type, a commodity, and something that can be used to manufacture something else.”

The recent spike in prices for everything from food to building supplies has created an urgency for recycling, adds Nitschke.

Last year, mills cranked out a record 407 billion square feet of corrugated product used for cardboard boxes, and prices continue to rise, rivaling other recyclables that consumers once saw as cash cows.

“The price that you can get for cardboard exceeds the price that you can get for aluminum,” Nitschke says. “I didn’t think that that would ever happen.”

Nitschke notes that the trends over the last 10 years are improving, and that recycling per person is now more than five pounds per month in the U.S. The number of people in the U.S. who recycle is now over 31%, accounting for 94 million tons annually that avoid landfills.

Apartment recycling makes economic sense

RealPage Sustainability Services continues to make improvements into enabling apartment recycling with new technology and software that helps operators to get the most out of waste management.

Because of incentives and subsidies, apartments can make a green contribution for a fraction of the cost of waste pickup fees. Based on a RealPage data, the average cost per apartment to pick up trash is $8.41 per unit versus $0.80 for recycling.

RealPage clients are making a significant contribution to apartment recycling.

“Just in 2021 they have recycled over almost close to 5,000 tons of recycling,” Nitschke says. “And avoided over 14,000 tons of CO2.”

Enhancing the resident experience

A recent case study of a large apartment community that began a recycling program shows how properties can turn trash into cash while meeting the growing expectations of residents who favor recycling.

RealPage analyzed the property’s trash management program and replaced about half of the 30 trash dumpsters with recycling bins. Through targeted messaging, residents learned the do’s and don’ts of separating their waste and putting recyclables into bins rather than in overflowing dumpsters.

The property saved $87,000 in waste management fees while enhancing the resident living experience.

“A trend in the multifamily industry is that sustainability is considered an amenity,” Nitschke says. “If you ask a resident what sustainability means, recycling is always going to be one of their top three explanations of what that term is. And so, we were providing a new amenity to a community that didn’t have it before. And the residents were excited to see it.”

Want to learn more about STRATIS Smart Building and sustainability? Learn more about the Sustainability Services, which provide the most comprehensive set of integrated energy management and conservation-related tools and professional services on the market.


STRATIS®, a RealPage Company, creates smart apartments and intelligent buildings and is the only platform of its kind built for the complexities of multifamily and student housing. STRATIS is installed worldwide across the U.S., in Japan, the UK, EU, and Latin America. STRATIS now serves hospitality, retail, and small to mid-size commercial, as well. STRATIS is an Inc. Magazine “Fastest Growing Company in America” and a Top Ten Entrepreneur Magazine “Best Company in America.” STRATIS was recently acquired by RealPage to enable STRATIS Smart Building, a more connected lifestyle, and unleash hidden yield through new revenue streams.

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