There are nearly 250 apartments at Forest Hill Apartments in Eugene and multiple locations for disposing of residents’ trash and recycling. New residents are handed a packet when they move in detailing what can and cannot be recycled and how it should be sorted. Some residents have taken it upon themselves to see it done right.
“We have residents here who have pride of ownership in their homes even though they’re renting,” said property manager Corina DeMello. “They actively put out fliers about things that are allowed to be put into recycling versus what should go into the garbage. It’s a passion of theirs.”
But even a correctly sorted stash of recycling can easily be contaminated, a problem affecting apartment complexes across Oregon. “Then all of the hard work of the people who do the recycling here is for nothing because of the commingling factor, and all of the recycling just gets thrown in the landfill,” DeMello said. “I don’t know what we can do … . It would be easier if we had a way of policing it, but we don’t.”
The Department of Environmental Quality in 2018 issued a report that said recycling behavior is not widespread or consistent among multifamily properties. It identified problems such as tenant inconvenience and non-tenant use but also signaled that confusion leads to poor recycling habits.
“In general, it appears tenants are not getting the information or reinforcement they need to encourage them to participate or recycle. In addition, visual cues, such as signs in a few different languages that include images supportive of recycling behavior, are lacking,” read the report.
While local communities have taken action on recycling, there historically has been a lack of unified statewide action to assure access and ease of recycling at multi-tenant apartments where recycling can be more difficult, DEQ Material Recovery Specialist Sanne Stienstra said.
“They don’t have control over their containers. They don’t have control over how much service they have or how often their containers get picked up. They don’t have control over where the containers are or how they’re labeled or anything like that,” Stienstra said.
These factors, along with others such as safety concerns and a small amount of comingling caused by trash pickers, can coalesce as contamination. “Contamination is one of the top issues for both people living in multi-tenant facilities as well as the property managers,” Stienstra said.