How to Avoid Contaminated Recycling in Apartments
Flattened cardboard boxes stacked on top of each other

Despite good intentions, those bottles, cans and paper bags residents toss in the recycling bin in the name of eco-friendliness may be causing big problems. The average contaminated recycling rate in the U.S. is 25%, which means contents in a quarter of recycling bins usually wind up in the landfill.

Contamination typically results when non-recyclables, or items that should be thrown in the trash, are mixed in the bin. While cardboard boxes are a growing recyclable, a grease-stained pizza box can pollute the bin. Sometimes, the entire batch of recyclables ends up being contaminated and diverted to the landfill.

A leading cause for contamination is a lack of education about what constitutes a recyclable item. Certain types of plastics – like grocery bags and containers used for hazardous chemicals, like pesticides and toxic sprays, can’t be recycled.

When contaminated items show up in apartment recycling bins, properties can be charged fees or fines, which may go undetected on the monthly bill.

“A not-so-fun fact is that 63 risk contaminants per property per month can be chargeable at a fine averaging $49 per item,” says RealPage Vice President, Sustainability, Mary Nitschke in the Turn Trash into Cash webcast. “That’s $3,128 of risk every month.”

Uncollapsed boxes contribute to recycling costs

Among the most common challenge at apartments is uncollapsed cardboard boxes, or whole boxes that are often thrown in the recycling and trash dumpsters. Since the pandemic began and shipping online surged, cardboard boxes have filled recycling containers nationwide.

However, 73% of all boxes that are thrown in the dumpsters aren’t broken down and should be adding 20% of container fullness at pick up. Bulky items and e-waste are also at the top of the list.

Using AI to fight contamination

To avoid unexpected expenses, Nitschke says properties really have to manage their recycling programs effectively by identifying issues and taking action before they become a problem. One way is to get eyes on what’s filling dumpsters around the property.

Through the RealPage Smart Waste Solution’s partnership with Compology, a small yet powerful camera mounts inside a dumpster and records activity, levels, pickups, and contaminated items.

Using artificial intelligence (AI) and a ruggedized camera enables powerful analytics and actionable alerts that give property managers visibility into per unit waste costs, contamination fees, and recycling diversion ratios at the property and portfolio level.

As multifamily’s first cloud-based platform capable of assessing the location of each dumpster on a property, it can accurately optimize pickups, locations, fullness, capacity, content, and contamination levels − cutting costs for managing waste by an average of 40%.

Site teams receive updates multiple times a day on contamination, obstruction, and other issues prior to container collection, giving them time to resolve and avoid penalties.

The technology, which is included in RealPage’s Smart Waste Solution, reduces trash contamination fees by up to 80%. Property managers can depend on this solution to lower waste management fees which traditionally have been viewed as uncontrollable.

“People think waste management fees are not manageable,” Nitschke says. “They are manageable and they can even turn trash into cash. But you have to have an actionable system.”

Learn more about Smart Waste Solutions and discover the RealPage Sustainability Suite here.


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.

Let’s get started

Customize your own Smart Building.