Turning Trash into Cash through Smart Waste
Two industrial waste bins in a parking lot in front of trees. One is blue and one is green.

Through smart waste, multifamily waste management presents a unique opportunity for property managers to turn trash into cash in a way that enhances instead of soils the bottom line.

Waste haul-off has long been perceived as an uncontrollable and unrecoverable expense. A property manager may be mindful of only pickup days by waste management contractor but not additional fees or excess expense associated with taking out the garbage or recycling. Sometimes, bills are paid without a second thought, ultimately costing the property or portfolio thousands of dollars.

But today’s waste management solutions help operators eliminate unnecessary expenses and even find money.

RealPage Vice President, Sustainability, Mary Nitschke, notes three ways that apartment operators can minimize waste management’s burden: reducing overages, eliminating contamination and rightsizing.

The benefit can mean up to a 40% savings in waste management expense.

Seeking opportunities to save

Nitschke says the first way to turn trash into cash is by taking a holistic view of the property’s waste management processes to determine the right strategy. A focus may be on reducing the waste cost per unit and/or improving diversion (the amount of recyclables and composting that is rerouted from landfills).

“You want to look at where your opportunity is, where there is the lowest hanging trash fruit,” Nitschke says.

Benchmarking to identify problems ultimately helps to find that sweet spot to drive up diversion rates. Reporting on waste and progress through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Waste Wise program is a good start, she adds.

The program encourages organizations and businesses to achieve sustainability in their practices and reduce waste, practice environmental stewardship, and incorporate sustainable materials management in to the waste-handling processes.

With it, properties can benchmark against peers and compare cost per unit against the national average and against like properties.

In addition, properties should make a practice of comparing invoices and analyzing charges to discover fees that sometimes fall under the radar. Dumpster capacity needs to be documented so operators can coordinate pickups on a schedule that aligns with usage, as well as improve recycling and drive down waste.

Eye on rightsizing, overages, and contamination

Dumpster type and size and pickup schedules play big into optimizing a waste management program, or right-sizing to reduce trash expense a drive diversion. Rightsizing a property for waste comes down to diving into a dumpster, so to speak.

Nitschke says several factors determine the perfect stable of dumpsters, including typical fill levels, type, and frequency of service.

“But you don’t actually have to jump in or hang out at the dumpster to figure that out,” says Nitschke.

Instead, RealPage’s Smart Waste Solution, in exclusive partnership with Compology’s camera, brings added visibility to waste. Mounted to the dumpster, the camera records fullness, metrics, and identifies contaminations. Images can be used to dispute hauler charges, or missed pickups, as well as verify overages.

Operators can quickly drill down and really manage at the container level for a single property or portfolio. By doing so, property managers might discover they are paying more for what they get, Nitschke says.

“We’ve seen some very surprising things, like 32 missed pickups per property per month on average,” she says. “That’s what really shocks people. It’s not always the hauler’s fault. There are all kinds of things that happen.”

Overage fees are the top unexpected expense and account for more than 5% of all waste costs nationally. The average apartment property wastes thousands of dollars per year on hauling fees for dumpsters that are only 46% full, according to RealPage data.

Contaminated waste can get costly as well. There are 63 risk contaminants per property per month that can be chargeable at a fine averaging $49 per item, or $3,128 of risk every month, says Nitschke.

An overage fee can be charged if the lid is just slightly cocked, even if it’s just one box that is preventing the lid from closing.

“So if it’s just up a couple inches, if there’s just one little box that’s holding that lid up, that constitutes the ability for them to fine for overage,” says Nitschke.

The power of Smart Waste

RealPage’s Smart Waste Solution uses artificial intelligence (AI) so property managers can monitor trash and recycling pickups as well as contents. The solution accurately identifies per unit waste costs, contamination fees, and recycling diversion ratios at the property and portfolio level.

With the Compology camera and analytics, properties can see not only what’s in their dumpsters but analyze the data that yields extra cash.

One client, says Nitschke, raised its diversion rate by rightsizing and eliminating unnecessary charges to the tune of $87,000.

“When properties start looking at their costs through RealPage’s Smart Waste, they can understand quickly and how controllable these expenses are.”

Interested in learning more about benchmarking? Join RealPage’s Mary Nitschke, VP of Sustainability, and Carol Schmitt, Chief Evangelist for Smart Energy in a webcast to plan for benchmarking in 2022 and beyond.


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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