14 July 2010

Another Look at Recycling Apartment Complexes

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

NORTH RICHLAND HILLS -- Apartment dwellers have been increasingly calling the city, concerned that their plastic bottles, magazines and soup cans are ending up in the trash instead of a recycling bin.

"I receive calls from apartment managers too, wanting to know what they can offer their residents because they're getting the same requests," said Debbie York, neighborhood services manager for North Richland Hills. "We really don't have anything for them."

It's a common and years-old refrain across Tarrant County, where few apartment complexes offer any kind of recycling. No one has been able to keep the cost and contamination low enough to make recycling possible for a significant number of North Texans.

But North Richland Hills apartments, which has offered curbside recycling for single-family homes since the early 1990s, is making another run at recycling on multifamily properties. The city has applied for $43,665 in grant money from the North Central Texas Council of Governments to start a pilot program at four apartment complexes.

City leaders will find out July 15 whether they can launch the program.

The complexes have not been chosen, but York said the city is leaning toward one with more than 800 units and three smaller ones. All told, she said, officials hope to try it with about 1,600 units, about 23 percent of the city's apartments.

"We've had people move here from other cities and states where they are able to recycle, and they are really appalled that they can't," York said. "We also have people who have lost their homes or haven't lived in apartments in years, and they're used to recycling. They want that same opportunity in apartments."

Recycling, in and of itself, doesn't provide much of a revenue stream. Prices for recycling have been quite low in recent years, and most cities consider it a victory to break even. But diverting all that material saves money by making a landfill last longer.

Apartment recycling has been a challenge for many cities and North Texas apartment buildings, said Perry Pillow, director of government affairs for the Apartment Association of Tarrant County, which represents the interests of the owners and managers of hundreds of complexes.

Many pilot programs have never advanced beyond that stage, and numerous studies have been commissioned, he said. He has worked for years with officials in Fort Worth and Arlington, but he said that contamination of recycling receptacles with regular trash makes it unworkable for complexes and haulers.

"Everybody wants to do it, and everybody knows we need to do it," Pillow said. "But it's been a hard nut to crack -- how do you get apartment residents to recycle? The challenge is contamination. You can't control what goes in."

In the vast majority of cases, Fort Worth apartment complexes contract with private companies to dispose of their garbage, so cities are left with only the power of encouragement.

Contamination isn't the only reason it isn't more widespread in North Texas, said Kim Mote, Fort Worth's assistant director for environmental management. He said cost is another major factor in the highly competitive apartment market. Offering on-site recycling would increase disposal costs for the complex, he said.

"We took a survey about five years ago to see what the climate was, and we found out that the managers did not want to add any costs and a majority of the residents did not want to pay more for rent to be able to recycle," Mote said.

York said educating residents will be a major part of the pilot program, provided that the council of governments approves the grant.

"There is a lot of continuous education because people move in and out of these Fort Worth apartments," she said. At the end of nine months, "We'll be giving the City Council a report -- how many Dumpsters were used, what was the contamination rate, how much was collected, what was the opinion of the apartment managers."

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