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Apartments/Multi-Family Housing

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One potential challenge facing communities implementing pay-as-you-throw is how to deal with residents in apartments/multi-family housing (buildings with five units or more). Communities have developed many different strategies to deal with this issue, ranging from high-tech measuring equipment to exempting residents in large buildings.

Multi-family housing is not a concern for every solid waste planner considering pay-as-you-throw (PAYT). Some communities, particularly small, rural towns, may have few or no large, residential buildings. In larger, urban communities, however, such buildings can house a sizeable portion of the population.

Because trash generated by residents of apartments/multi-family housing is often collected from common dumpsters rather than directly from the units, including these households in a PAYT program can be difficult. There is no guarantee that residents of apartments/multi-family housing will choose to participate-in many cases, they can simply continue to put their trash into the building's dumpster if they wish. In this setting, it can be difficult to enforce the use of PAYT. In addition, multi-family buildings may not receive the same level of recycling and other complementary services as single-family housing units. These residents might therefore have fewer avenues for waste reduction.

Photo of Multi-Family Housing

Despite these potential difficulties, options are available to include residents of apartments/multi-family housing. Planners might work with building managers to offer a waste reduction incentive tailored for the building's residents. Under this approach, if residents generate less trash, some of the building manager's reduced waste disposal fees would be passed on to them in the form of lower rents or fees, or even a direct cash rebate. The incentive is somewhat diluted with this option, however, because the cost savings would be spread among all building residents-regardless of whether they threw away less trash.

Another approach is to modify buildings' waste collection systems. Dumpsters or garbage chutes could be altered to operate only when a magnetic card, trash token, or other proof of payment is used. Weight-based systems also could be used by adding a scale at the bottom of the chute that records the weight of the trash. In addition, planners could try to have building codes for new and renovated buildings amended to require the installation of separate chutes for recycling and for garbage disposal. Unfortunately, many of these systems are not widely available. The cost of equipment and the time involved in working with landlords, building managers, and residents also can make such modifications expensive.

In response, some communities decide to start with more limited pilot programs, enabling them to test PAYT in single-family houses and other smaller residential units before attempting to include residents of apartments/multi-family housing. Others decide to exempt apartments/multi-family housing residents altogether. While some residents would be unable to participate in PAYT, this approach enables planners to move ahead with offering variable rates while searching for ways to extend the waste reduction incentive to all community households.

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Additional resources

For additional help in dealing with issues like apartments/multi-family housing, use the worksheet on overcoming potential barriers (Worksheet 2 in the set of seven worksheets (PDF) (21 pp, 331K, about PDF) in the Pay-As-You-Throw Tool Kit. This worksheet leads planners through a consideration of approaches to various potential barriers.

For answers to questions about different approaches to this issue, visit apartments/multi-family housing in the Frequent Questions section of this Web site.

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