Organics Recycling Made Easy for Multi Family Buildings

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Representing close to a quarter of municipal solid waste (MSW) in America, organics, including food waste and scraps, yard and garden waste, and biodegradable paper products, contribute significantly to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from production through to landfill disposal. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that food waste specifically potentially generates up to 170 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent GHG emissions. In response, the EPA and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have set a goal to reduce the nation’s food waste by half by the year 2030.

For high-density neighborhoods with multi-family buildings, food waste issues are often derived from socioeconomic shortcomings combined with a shortfall of effective disposal points, as well as a potential lack of awareness and accountability. Understanding these contributing factors and their influence in varying urban communities is key to ensuring equity and the optimal output of preventive, sustainable solutions.

Organics Recycling Across America

A 2019 article by the USDA stated there were 4,700 composting facilities in the U.S processing organic matter, food scraps, and yard trimmings. Due in part to the decentralised approach to waste management infrastructure in America, however, composting and organics recycling mandates can vary considerably from state to state, and while most states comply with federal legislation regarding food waste, only around one-third (32%) of waste is currently recycled or composted across the nation. Nonetheless, with many cities across the United States adopting zero-waste roadmaps in recent years, organics recycling has begun to develop accordingly as a result.

Several states have passed new laws to aid landfill prevention and restrict food waste, including Washington, Connecticut, and New York. Vermont’s ‘Universal Recycling Law’ came into effect back in July 2020, banning food scrap waste entirely, while new legislation has been implemented in Massachusetts and Colorado to establish private-sector funded composting and organic collection programs.

On a city-wide scale, San Francisco has been operating a successful organics waste recycling and composting program for over 2 decades (1996). It was the first program of its kind in the U.S and currently collects a daily 650 tons of residential food waste that is composted and distributed for agricultural practice, with the resulting produce recycled back into the city for residential consumption. Los Angeles, meanwhile, recently implemented food waste task forces in order to create composting education and infrastructure.

Challenges for Multi-family Buildings

Collecting and recycling organics creates challenges within communal settings, in terms of ensuring resident participation and restricting contamination. This is largely due to the nature of the material, daily challenges faced by residents in high-density and multi-story buildings, and issues maintaining a clean, user-friendly facility. With turnover in residents also fairly common in multi-family buildings, providing educational components to encourage good practice on an equitable level requires persistent communication and transparency of any changes or updates to an established recycling system. Issues can ultimately arise due to shortcomings in these factors.

In terms of space requirements, in buildings with available external space, a common storage solution can be to place organics carts out of sight behind a walled or fenced screening system. Placing collection bins in hygienic, well-ventilated rooms specifically for organics disposal can also be an optimal solution to increase access and provide cleaner organics capture, if previously incorporated into the building design.  However, for older buildings and those with restricted internal space, this solution is typically unfeasible. In these circumstances, increased collection may be necessary to avoid overflowing organic waste, which can lead to side waste and issues with public health.

Providing Effective Solutions for Residents and Housing Authorities

Encouraging community participation in organics recycling comes down to providing an appropriate blend of the right education and easy access to effective, dedicated facilities for organics disposal. Removing potential obstacles and providing residents with kitchen caddies and liners eases the food separation process from the offset, in addition to mitigating the risk of contamination from the offset. 

metroSTOR organics cart housings have been developed specifically to address further challenges posed by multifamily communities by providing a secure, accessible deposit point that enables touch-free access, whenever residents leave home. With the handling of food waste containers a factor that can discourage use, a foot pedal operated lid is designed to ensure the housing is enclosed immediately upon organics waste disposal, restricting odor. 

Increased awareness is achieved through clearly visible and visually aiding designs and symbols, recognizable color coding, and multilingual messaging, with this combination making it simple for residents to utilize disposal points appropriately. In addition, metroSTOR organics cart housings give operators the ability to manage and monitor usage reliably, with options for access control ensuring access to the cart is restricted to residents only