Local governments extend food and yard waste collection to multifamily dwellings
Editor’s note: The original version of this story was removed from our website because of incorrect information about a recycling/composting program in Iowa City, Iowa. The following is a rewritten version with new information from Mill Valley, Calif. We apologize for any confusion.
Curbside food and yard waste pickup for multifamily housing units is the next frontier for municipal composting programs. And, finding a solution that works for everyone can be tricky.
Mill Valley, Calif., began offering weekly curbside collection for food and yard waste in August to its 14,000 residents, but convincing multifamily residences, such as apartments and condos, to get on board with the program has posed some challenges, says Carol Misseldine, the city’s sustainability director. Although participation among residents in apartments is building steadily, the city is pushing more people to take part, she says.
Mill Valley has long provided curbside pickup of compostable yard waste every other week through a contract with an independent hauler. Now that the contract has been expanded to include weekly food waste collection, residents are being asked to dispose of their food scraps in the same green bins they use to collect yard waste. But, because few multifamily residents have yards, many are composting for the first time and are unfamiliar with the process. “At multifamily residences like condos, it’s less common for residents to have green [composting] cans because apartment dwellers themselves don’t have yard waste,” Misseldine says. “Oftentimes the landlord is responsible for hauling away whatever yard waste there might be.”
Then there is the issue of frequent tenant turnover. A resident who knows the ins and outs of composting could be replaced by another who does not, Misseldine says.
For those reasons, the city is working with the Marin County, Calif.-based nonprofit Environmental Forum of Marin to implement an education program to teach multifamily residents how to compost properly. Part of that program will include identifying people at each apartment or condo complex who can assist their neighbors with proper composting, much like a Neighborhood Watch block captain would lead neighbors in safety efforts. The nonprofit also is developing a database of apartment and condo residents to keep track of who is using the bins. “It’s a big undertaking. It’s much more difficult than with single-family residents,” Misseldine says of outreach efforts.
The Mill Valley outreach program is in the design phase, and the city plans to begin implementation between January and April 2011. Some cities are further along in their multifamily composting programs. In San Francisco, mandatory composting became law for all homes, businesses and multifamily complexes in October 2009. Tenants and landlords could face fines beginning July 2011 for failing to properly sort their trash and compostables.
So far, the city has about a 60 percent participation rate among its 10,000 apartment buildings. But, getting to that rate has required continuing efforts, says Alexa Kielty, residential assistant for San Francisco’s Zero Waste program. “A lot of people have sort of written off apartments as not being able to compost or recycle. But through person-to-person outreach, we’ve really seen some headway,” she says. Meanwhile, Portland, Ore., is conducting a pilot curbside food and yard waste pickup program with the intention of extending it to homes citywide and eventually apartments, says city spokesman Roy Kaufmann.
Networking is key to a successful multifamily food and yard waste collection program, says Sally Brown, research and associate professor at the University of Washington College of the Environment. Multifamily composting success rates are much better when there is a condo or co-op association for the tenants, she says. To reach out to smaller properties, cities and counties would benefit from establishing similar networks with set fee structures for the landlords to follow so that it is in the owner’s interest to participate to avoid price fluctuations in composting services, she says.