Recycling in Apartments, Condos
and Multi-Family Properties

Multi-family properties, such as apartments and condos, tend to face more challenges than single family housing when organizing and implementing recycling programs. Since apartment buildings require the cooperation and dedication of residents, landlords, building owners, maintenance staff, and haulers (among others), recycling often gets overlooked due to its high level of commitment.
However, just like any other entity in Connecticut, apartment and condominium complexes are required to recover recyclables, which must be separated from other solid waste by residents, landlords, and others involved in the community. Contact your municipal recycling coordinator to learn of programs available to you.  In addition, here are some ideas, suggestions and resources to help you develop a successful multi-family recycling program.

Why Should My Building Recycle?

Beyond reducing green house gas emissions, saving money and protecting the environment, Recycling is the Law in Connecticut.

Your apartment building or condominium complex is most likely considered a “commercial” entity.  Connecticut municipalities have passed ordinances requiring all single family homes and some multi-family houses to participate in the municipal recycling program.  If your building or condominium complex does not receive municipal trash collection, you must make alternative arrangements.
Tip to Save Money
When you start diverting materials from the trash into recycling you will most likely generate less trash. Take economic advantage of the decreased amounts of trash requiring disposal by adjusting your trash pick-up schedule and/or reducing the size of your trash container. 
Save Money And Reduce Trash

Working with a Commercial Hauler

If you are a landlord you need to provide a collection system for your tenants.  Contact your hauler about helping you collect recyclables at your building or complex.  The collection system should be easy and convenient.  If residents currently bring their trash outside to carts or a dumpster, designing a similar system for recycling may make sense.
Recycling Dumpster
Make sure recycling carts, barrels or dumpsters are well marked and easy to understand.  Consider developing labels and signs in multiple languages if English is not the first language of your tenants and/or neighbors.
Commercial haulers or collectors bring their recyclables to specific processing facilities.  Depending on the facility, the hauler may offer you a collection program that is ‘dual-stream collection’ where you put your bottles and cans (usually glass, plastic and metal) in one container and your paper (usually cardboard, boxboard, junk mail and magazines) in a different container.  A third container would be just for trash or non-recyclables.  Follow recycling guidelines of what can and cannot be recycled from your hauler.
Your hauler may also offer you ‘single stream collection’ where you can put your recyclable bottles, cans and paper all in the same bin.  With a single stream collection program all your recyclables are combined together in one bin.  Your second container is for trash or non-recyclables.  A single-stream collection program can be helpful when there is limited space, however you need to make sure your neighbors and/or tenants understand the bin is for combined recyclables – not recyclables and trash.
Frequently Asked Question

Question:  My hauler provides a single dumpster for all garbage and recyclables. He told me that they have a permit which allows them to separate out mandated recyclables from mixed garbage.  Is this true?
Such hauler claims are false and, consequently, any entity using this system for recycling may be in violation of state recycling requirements. There are no facilities permitted in Connecticut to "pick through" garbage to retrieve designated recyclable material.
Recycling collection strategies vary depending on the building size, number of units or apartments in your building and how you manage your trash now. There is no single formula for creating the “best” recycling system; buildings around the country are constantly establishing their own successful rules and practices. However, a few characteristics are common amongst multi-family buildings with the highest recycling rates.
In general, it is important to consider a few key things when setting up a recycling program:
  • Make the program affordable for both tenants and owners
  • Make the program as simple as possible
  • Educate the tenants about how to recycle
  • Provide feedback to tenants on their progress
  • Enforce the rules, when necessary.
In a multi-family residence or condominium complex, there is a greater opportunity for people to get involved and ensure that their building community is recycling. Residents have the power to organize or ask for better recycling systems in their building and can easily help landlords, building owners, or maintenance staff successfully implement a program. One key to a successful and efficient multi-family recycling program is to ensure the cooperation and enthusiasm of residents and landlords, through education, outreach, and awareness.

Common Barriers

Most multi-family buildings encounter similar challenges when planning and implementing recycling programs. Since every multi-family unit is different, buildings will also have specific challenges that are of greater concern than others. The following lists some of the biggest barriers to creating a successful multi-family recycling program:
  • High Resident Turnover – Apartment complexes are more likely than single family residences to be temporary homes, since many people live in apartments for a few years before moving to their own houses. As a result, landlords of multi-family residences must remember to educate new tenants every time they arrive, essentially starting from the beginning with every turnover.
Recycling Reminders Really Work
Studies show that posting two or three recycling reminders can increase participation by as much as 20 percent.
Provide recycling information to new residents when they move-in, and update recycling information on a semi-annual or annual basis. 
  • Limited Storage Space – Multi-family residences do not always make space in their hallways, closets, and laundry rooms for additional recycling containers. Instead of finding a way to make everything fit, some buildings simply place the bins where they do find room, which is often inconvenient for the residents, or forgo bins entirely.

  • Language Barriers – Multi-family buildings are often home to larger amounts of foreign-language speaking families. In these situations, educational materials that are printed in English may not be clear enough for residents to understand. When possible, program coordinators should provide translated materials in addition to the English materials, in order to give foreign families the ability to understand and participate in the program while using the translations to practice their English skills.  Using pictures can also help residents understand what is or is not acceptable.

  • Contamination of Bins/Convenience Issues – In many buildings, recycling carts often look like garbage containers and are placed in locations that are convenient to the haulers or building staff, and not the residents. As a result, recycling carts are more likely to be contaminated with garbage and recyclables are more likely to be thrown away. Since the residents are the ones producing the waste, it is better to arrange recycling and garbage bins in logical places according to the residents’ normal routine.

  • Outreach Strategies – Depending on the size of the building, outreach strategies can range from extremely successful to largely ineffective. In all cases, outreach and education are crucial in order to give residents the information and resources they need to recycle efficiently. Without outreach, residents might not even know that recycling exists in their building, let alone how or where to do so.  Make sure signs and labels are easy to understand.  Use pictures and multi-lingual brochures and posters.  Add recycling reminders to newsletters or make a recycling ‘how-to’ handbook for residents.
E-Waste (CT DEEP)
CT DEEP Recycling Program FAQ’s  Who is responsible for providing recycling services to apartment buildings, condominium complexes and small businesses?
Multi-family Recycling: A National Study (EPA, November 2001)  A study conducted by the EPA to examine the reach of multi-family recycling in the United States, and determine factors associated with successful programs. The report defines multi-family recycling and offers useful information about organization, costs, measuring success, elements of successful programs, and lessons learned.
We Want It!  (Toronto) A recycling ad campaign aimed at residents of multi-family and apartment complexes in Toronto.
Valley apartments go green with recycling (Las Vegas Sun article) - Retirement community in Los Vegas creates a successful recycling program for its residents
Multi-family Recycling: Barriers and Best Practices (MA DEP, November 2002) – Summarizes the most commonly stated complaints about starting a multi-family recycling program, from the perspective of each individual involved addressing the actions of other participants (e.g. Building owners/managers, residents, communities, haulers).
Questions may be directed to the DEEP Recycling Program at (860) 424-3366.  Business hours are between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, except State holidays.
Disclaimer: The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) maintains the content on this web site to enhance public access to information and facilitate understanding of waste reduction, reuse and recycling. The DEEP is not recommending these resources over any others and recognizes these represent only a partial listing of resources on this subject.
Content Last Updated January 2020