Multi-Family Recycling Guide

Since the enactment of Pennsylvania Act 101 in 1988 by Governor Bob Casey, access to traditional recycling service is mandatory for the vast majority of Pennsylvanians, including multi-family residents. Multi-family residences are buildings that house multiple family units and can range from houses retrofitted into multiple separate living units to large condominium complexes. In Pittsburgh alone, multi-family residences represent 23.3 percent of all housing units.

Multi-family residential units provide a key area for growth in material diversion across Pennsylvania. Unfortunately multi-family residences are often under served in terms of recycling as Act 101 requirements are not enforced and these units are typically excluded from common curbside collection services as they are considered commercial properties.

In 2014, the Pennsylvania Resources Council partnered with Alcoa Foundation to increase recycling in multi-family residential units in the Greater Pittsburgh area. These units ranged in location, size, demographics, and existing recycling systems. PRC tested a variety of strategies to implement successful recycling programs and gathered best management practices for property owners and residents of multi-family residences.

What is the law?

pghrecyclingAct 101 outlines the planning and disposal of municipal waste within the Commonwealth. Many of Act 101’s requirements are targeted at mandated municipalities. These are municipalities with populations greater than 5,000 people as well as municipalities with more than 300 persons per square mile. Mandated Municipalities are required to adopt specific ordinances which implement recycling programs for residents and businesses alike. Act 101 also made available grants to all municipalities for establishing the newly required recycling programs and specified that all disposal facilities must also provide recycling drop-off centers.

Act 101 defines a compliant recycling program as one that collects at last 3 of the following materials from their residents: clear glass; colored glass; plastics; aluminum; steel and bimetallic cans; high grade office paper; corrugated paper and/or newsprint.

Act 101 also requires commercial, municipal and institutional establishments within a mandated municipality to recycle aluminum, high-grade office paper and corrugated paper in addition to other materials identified by the municipality.

Owners and landlords of multi-family rental housing properties are required to follow the local municipal code in regards to recyclable materials. They must establish a recycling collection systems at each property and “the collection system must include suitable containers for collecting and sorting materials, easily accessible locations for the containers and written instructions to the occupants concerning the use and availability of the collection system.”

What are Multi-Family Dwellings

Pennsylvania’s Act 101 defines multi-family dwellings as “…housing properties with four or more units…” However, each mandated municipality sets forth their own standard of what is considered a multi-family dwelling. The City of Pittsburgh for instance includes properties with five or more units as a multi-family dwelling.

In general multi family dwellings can range from a collection of small building to a single high-rise; from  condominiums to public housing complexes. According to Act 101, property owners and/or landlords are required to establish easily accessible recycling systems at each property as outlined in the previous section.

How Can I Start Recycling? (Residents)

According to Act 101, owners and landlords of multi family properties are required to establish convenient recycling systems. If you are a resident of a multi family property that does not offer recycling services, reach out to your municipality to inquire about Act 101 requirements.  As mentioned above, some municipalities are too small or sparsely populated to require recycling.

If you do live in a mandated municipality which requires recycling, set up a meeting with your landlord and let them know what you are interested in recycling at your property, especially as it is required by state law and local municipal ordinances. Share the educational materials and this page with them, and feel free to connect them to PRC or your local municipality. Just about every waste hauling company also offers recycling services, which can be added onto any existing contract, either immediately or when the contract expires or is renewed. If landlords are unwilling to recycle, reach out to the Recycling or Public Works Department of your municipality to discuss next steps. Feel free to include PRC in this conversation. You can email [email protected].


How Can I Start Recycling? (Property Owners/Landlords)

Owners and landlords of multi-family properties are required to establish convenient recycling systems by state and local laws. If you do not currently offer recycling to your tenants, reach out to your municipality to determine local ordinances and requirements for recycling in your area.

1. Set Up Recycling Hauling

Contact your current trash hauler and inquire about recycling opportunities. Most trash haulers, such as  also provide recycling services. Consider reaching out to multiple waste haulers, in addition to your current hauler, to find the best price for your property.

Acquire recycling receptacles for your residents’ recycling materials. Wheeled toters may be sufficient for very small properties with only a few units, medium and larger-sized properties need entire dumpsters exclusively for recycling. Typically, waste haulers are able to provide appropriate collection bins for properties.

2. Set Up Recycling Collection System for Residents and Staff

Recycling Bin in an Uptown Apartment Building.

After setting up the recycling hauling systems, set up a collection system for the property residents and staff. This includes providing accessible recycling containers and recycling containers in community spaces. As a rule, recycling should be as convenient as a residents access to waste disposal. Place recycling containers next to every waste receptacle.

Include recycling containers for resident use for each of your buildings, preferably inside. Examples of preferable locations inside buildings include centralized trash rooms or communal hallways; examples of preferable locations outside buildings include in property garages or right behind properties. These recycling bins are designed to collect recyclable materials primarily generated in residential units.

Also include recycling containers in property public spaces such as lobbies, mail rooms, community rooms, courtyards, laundry rooms, and more. These recycling containers should be for any recyclables generated in community areas, such as beverage bottles and laundry detergent bottles. Additionally, include recycling bins for any offices that may operate within your property.

Throughout this process, work with the property’s maintenance and/or janitorial staff to ensure a successful recycling program. These members of the staff can provide valuable input in the location of the recycling bins and hauling strategies within the property. Work with them to determine how often recycling bins in community areas or in trash rooms need to be emptied.

3. Educate Property Residents and Staff

presentationUse a combination of techniques to ensure residents and staff are aware of the recycling program.

Install clear signage about what items are recyclable and where to recycle in the building. Include a combination of images and text. These signs should be posted with every recycling bin in the property, including in trash rooms and community spaces. Find template recycling signage in the “Educational Materials” section below, which property owners are free to use and install.

Communicate with residents about the new or existing recycling program. Discuss the program at monthly meetings, property newsletters, or community events. Distribute educational materials, such as brochures, to new and existing residents to ensure that every member of the community understands the new recycling system. Educational materials should mirror the signage posted throughout the property.  Find template recycling brochures in the “Educational Materials” section below which are free to use and distribute to residents and staff.

4. Follow-Up with Residents and Staff

Check in regularly with residents and staff to remind them about good recycling habits to ensure high participation rates and low contamination rates. Adjust the program based on resident and staff feedback as necessary, including adding more recycling bins, improving signage, moving recycling and/or trash containers.

Congratulations, you have set up a recycling program!

PRC's Multi Family Recycling Report

From 2014 to 2017 PRC worked with 15 properties in the Greater Pittsburgh Area to find best management practices in regards to recycling. Find the results in the 2014-2017 PRC Multi Family Recycling Report below.


(Downloadable version available here.)