Known for its theme parks and tourism, Orlando, Florida is making a name for itself in another way: Recycling. A forward-thinking community with a deep-rooted commitment to environmental equity, Orlando strives to become a “zero waste” community by 2040. Adequate, efficient, and equitable recycling programs are key to achieving this “zero waste” goal. However, we know that recycling access is not equitable in every community. In fact, the imbalances go even further when we recognize that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) populations are two times more likely to live in multifamily housing than white populations, and about 3 out of every 5 multifamily households lack adequate access to recycling. Here’s where collaboration with The Recycling Partnership, a nonprofit focused on transforming recycling for all, helped empower Orlando to make a difference and end recycling inequities.
One way to address these systemic issues is to take a deep dive into a community and recognize the barriers and areas for improvement. For instance, in Orlando, about half of city residents live in a type of multifamily housing, which include apartments, town homes, condos, or high-rise residential buildings. Nationally, only about 30-40% of multifamily units have access to recycling. In Orlando, that was a significant number of residents without the ability to recycle.
Strategic Moves to Implement Policy
Paving the pathway for progress, in 2019 Orlando’s local government passed a universal recycling ordinance, requiring recycling access at all the city’s commercial and industrial properties. However, prior to its ordinance, Orlando set a strong recycling program foundation. The city was operationally ready to collect new recyclable material and leaders received feedback from residents and businesses wanting the ability to recycle. Additionally, Orlando officials were deliberate in engaging stakeholders on expanding recycling, leading an extensive outreach campaign through stakeholder meetings, webinars, and workshops. The audience included residents, haulers, property managers, and business leaders and associations like the Apartment Association of Greater Orlando, to address any concerns and share information. Constituents appreciated government’s willingness to engage.
Once the ordinance passed, The Recycling Partnership provided support through a $150,000 grant and partnered with the city on education and outreach. The hiring of a local Multifamily Recycling Project Manager proved to be critical. This position worked closely with local and regional property managers, empowering them to educate themselves and their residents through clear communication on property-specific recycling practices. The project manager also worked on plans for education distribution and recycling compliance – increasing the city’s capacity to help properties develop and maintain recycling programs.
In the multifamily housing landscape, there is frequent turnover with property managers and residents so recycling education needs to be ongoing with site visits, conversations, and education. Educational materials in this project included information and signage on accepted recycling items/how to recycle and customizable bilingual FAQs (double-sided materials in English and Spanish languages). Educational outreach included direct communication with property managers through letters, phone calls, site visits, and formal consultations. Messaging with images of recyclable and nonrecyclable items was key; signage used to be very text heavy. Another important consideration included where to place messaging as each multifamily property in Orlando has various touchpoints to dispose of materials (e.g., signage placed directly on dumpsters, enclosure doors or as yard signs, depending on the property).
“The Recycling Partnership has been invaluable to the city of Orlando as we continue to make sure that every resident can easily know how and what to recycle,” said Evan Novell, Sustainability Project Manager for the city of Orlando’s Solid Waste Division. “By working together, sharing resources and continuing education, we can take the guesswork out of recycling and continue to make a difference.”
Success and Progress Continues
Work continued during the pandemic, solidifying Orlando’s commitment to recycling. Key objectives for this project included the following:
- Increase the overall number of properties providing recycling access in Orlando.
- Increase the capture of high value recyclables while at the same time lowering contamination (nonrecyclable materials mixed in with recyclable items).
- Secure baseline data on multifamily recycling.
In one year, Orlando added recycling services to 21,491 multifamily units. More than 4,500 hard sided, plastic six-gallon bins were distributed to units to encourage drop-off in a multifamily common area or cart in a parking lot. Additionally, 2.2 million new pounds of recyclable material were diverted from the landfill. Going even further, our data showed that at properties with expanded access to recycling, contamination at two of three properties also decreased. Investing in public-private partnerships like this initiative pays dividends – encouraging relationship-building, taking the burden off small municipal staffs, and distributing free, culturally competent resources.
Expanded recycling access to 21,491 multifamily residential units
Diverted 2.2 million new pounds of recyclable material from the landfill
Reduced recycling contamination at 2 out of 3 residential properties that expanded recycling
As indicated in The Recycling Partnership’s roadmap to supporting equitable recycling, Paying It Forward, consistent education and engagement with respect to language and culture is critical to change. Education and access overall lead to a 40% increase in materials recovered and a 50% reduction in contamination rates, meaning cleaner, more usable materials without plastic bags or food waste mixed into the recycling stream. When we improve recycling quality, more materials can be recycled into new products and packaging. In Orlando, education continues today; through the support of a second grant, The Recycling Partnership and Orlando continue to work on increasing access of translated materials so residents have access to recycling information that they can understand. Additionally, Orlando committed to fully funding the Multifamily Recycling Project Manager position; today, 2022, there is a team of three project managers and additional project coordinators, associates, and staff to tackle recycling problems on a regular basis and continue education.
Members of the BIPOC community are two times as likely to live in multifamily housing
7 in 10 residents who live in a multifamily property or rural community lack equitable recycling access
Only 30-40% of multifamily units have access to recycling in the U.S.
Ultimately, municipalities can rely on The Recycling Partnership to help uncomplicate recycling and look toward a future where the burden of waste has been transformed into a beneficial resource – progress. The Orlando initiative was catalyzed through a policy, but regardless of whether policies have been enacted, The Recycling Partnership meets communities where they are, and can help transform residential recycling. Take the first step by downloading The Recycling Partnership’s Multifamily Recycling Guide and Community Toolkit, which has FREE customizable resources for communities to use in outreach to multifamily property owners, managers, and residents.