URC

Predicted Recycling Bin Usage in Apartment Complexes

Amanda Birkner,
Kim Celusnak,
Gina Nutini,
Jessica Rycenga,
Holly Winter
Jeanneane Wood-Nartker*
Central Michigan University


Abstract

This study measured whether or not the presence of recycling bins at Mount Pleasant apartment complexes would be utilized enough by the primarily college student residents to be worth effort. Apartment residents were surveyed to show a) how often they currently recycle while living in an apartment, b) how often they recycled when they lived on campus, and c) how often they would recycle if recycling bins were provided at their apartment complex. It was hypothesized that the frequency of recycling would increase if recycling bins were placed adjacent to the trash bins at their apartment complexes. Findings showed that while only 17 percent of college student apartment residents currently “always” recycle, and only 26 percent “always” recycled in the dorms, that 59 percent would “always” recycle if recycling bins were provided at their apartment complexes.

Predicted Recycling Bin Usage in Apartment Complexes

Most Mount Pleasant apartment complexes have no recycling bins and do not offer their residents any way to support recycling. This study measured whether or not the presence of these bins would be utilized enough by the primarily college student residents to be worth the effort. Apartment residents were surveyed to determine how often they currently recycle by a) bringing their materials to campus or community recycling bins, b) how often they recycled when they lived on campus in the dorms, and c) how often they would recycle if bins were provided at the apartment complex. It was predicted that the residents would recycle more often if recycling bins were provided at their apartment complex. Similar studies have been conducted.  For example, a 2005 study focused on multifamily dwellings (MFDs), which have traditionally not been the focus of recycling programs, although almost half now have large and numerous containers provided for their buildings. Current literature indicated that when both costs of storing and discarding recyclables are lower and the convenience of recycling is improved, more MFD households recycle (Ando, 2005). Another factor that may contribute to the number of people who choose to recycle is education.  People with a higher education tend to recycle more. Single-family dwellings (SFDs) tend to house people of higher income, compared to MFDs.  Due to their increased economic status, SFDs tend to live in larger dwellings that provide increased room for storing and discarding recyclables in comparison to MFDs. The results of Andos’ (2005) survey found that MFDs were more likely to recycle paper rather than containers due to the ease of carrying papers, along with a bag of trash, down several floors and across a horizontal distance. Containers are bulky, messy and not readily tucked under an arm. People who recycle while away from home were also more likely to recycle at home, and single-gendered households, older occupants, and women all recycle more. Overall, apartment dwellers have been shown to recycle less than SFD inhabitants, but the issues appeared to be related more to convenience and occupant demographics than to any other factor.

One example of a resident trying to make a change in apartment recycling provisions follows.  Steve Golieb, a resident of Courtside Condominiums in Orem, Utah, has been attempting to get the management of his apartment complex to be more proactive in offering recycling services. He agreed to help pay for the bin himself, but they were not interested. Golieb has been working with City Council members to make curbside services at apartments mandatory. He stated that Orem’s Waste Management department was apprehensive due to the fact that if even one person misused the bins, then the whole batch would be ruined (Rigert, 2008). Golieb stated that the residents who use the bins would be people who have already been recycling for some time and understand the recycling guidelines. Others felt that recycling should not necessarily be mandatory, but the opportunity should be provided for residents to make that choice.

Although some apartment complexes have been slow to address recycling needs, there are cities that are more proactive in creating solutions for MFD recycling. Several years ago, the city of Seattle was having major issues with garbage and recycling in both apartment complexes and multi-dwelling units. The city’s recycling is free and city residents can recycle all types of products except for glass. The city sent out 84,000 blue tote sized bags to the residents and they recycle at a rate of 22 percent, although the city’s goal was 37 percent (Recyling, 2003). City officials said that they believde the most important issue was getting the residents to bring their individual recycling bin to the main bins outside of their homes. This is why they resorted to the smaller tote bags in hopes that people would increase their recycling efforts if they did not need to carry big, heavy containers outside. An increase in recycling could also drastically reduce the garbage removal prices that an apartment complex has to pay. City officials said that they think the residents like this new simplified program, and they planned to conduct a study later in the year to determine if any changes had occurred with regard to the numbers of people participating in their recycling program due to the new convenience (no author, 2003).

After implementing this program in 2003 in Seattle, there has been more attention given to the idea of recycling across the nation, especially in multi-family dwellings or apartment type housing. This lack of recycling bins at apartment complexes has not gone unnoticed by everyone. For example, Jonathan Hildreth founded his business, Waste Management Concierge (WMC), after noticing how much waste he could have been recycling with his business alone. This motivated him to have his company travel to apartment complexes and pick up residents’ waste and recyclables five to seven nights a week (Binder, 2008). WMC planted 5000 trees for the “Trees for the Future” program when resident sign up for Hildreth’s concierge service. Not only does this company collect recyclables, they also take any items to Goodwill and take used washers, dryers, sofas, or chairs (Binder, 2008). With the “green” initiative on the rise, we may be seeing more companies like Hildreth’s developing across the nation.

Another example of recycling efforts exists in San Antonio, Texas where the state government is trying to pass a law on having recycling bins in apartment complexes. Their efforts have come up short and have given Greenhouse Apartments the opportunity to try something new. Many people today are “going green” and view it as an advantage to live in a place that shows support for sustainable efforts. Jon Haley, co-owner of Greenhouse, stated, “Recycling sets you apart from everybody else” (Hill, 2009).

Due to the poor economy, some homeowners have made the move to an apartment. Because they have previously recycled, they are now asking what they are supposed to do with their recyclables. With rental units comprising 41 percent of housing in the United States, the amount of trash that could be recycled would practically double if all apartment complexes offered this service.

From the literature, it appears that there are a variety of issues affecting the recycling activities of apartment dwellers. This research attempts to determine which issues affect recycling specifically in Mount Pleasant apartment complexes and how college students respond to the idea of recycling. Two goals of this project were to determine what percentage of CMU students were willing to recycle, and the second was to see if it would be worthwhile for apartment complex owners to invest in recycling bins. To this end, it was hypothesized that the frequency of recycling by college students would increase if recycling bins were placed adjacent to the trash bins in their apartment complexes.

Method

Participants

The participants of this study were students attending Central Michigan University who live in an off-campus apartment. The researchers sent out a survey link to CMU students via the Facebook website. To minimize the bias of limiting the sample to those who respond to a Facebook link, the researchers also administered this survey in person to CMU students who live off-campus, as shown in Appendix A. Selected sites included the University Center and Park Library since these facilities attract students with diverse backgrounds and interests. The treatment of subjects was in accordance with the ethical standards of the IRB. Student participation was voluntary, and the individual responses to the surveys will remain confidential. There were one hundred and eighty-two participants.  

Apparatus

The study was completed using two sources. One was a paper survey in which both data collection and statistical analysis were completed manually. The other method provided an online survey website, www.Surveymonkey.com, which allowed digital completion of the survey, via a link on the Facebook website.

The survey was posted for two weeks on the Facebook website and the surveys administered on campus occurred over several days at the busiest (lunchtime) hours. Students were only allowed to complete the survey once.

Results

CMU students living in off-campus apartments were asked three questions. These included: How often do you currently recycle while living in your apartment? If you ever lived on campus (i.e., dorms), how often did you recycle when you lived on campus? How often would you recycle if there were recycling bins provided at the apartment complex where you currently live? One hundred and eight-two CMU students participated in the study (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Frequency of Recycling While Living At Apartment


The on-campus survey was conducted over several different days to minimize a biased sample. The results of the first question indicated that 62 of 182 students (34 percent) of students currently recycling in their apartment complexes said they recycled “often” (see Figure 1). For the second question, 54 of 182 students (30 percent) of students who have previously lived on campus said that they recycled “often” when they lived there (see Figure 2). For the third question, how often would you recycle if Mount Pleasant apartment complexes offered recycling bins, 117 of 182 students (64 percent) of students said that they would “always” recycle (as shown in Figure 3).

Figure 2: If you ever lived on campus before (i.e. dorms), how often did you recycle when you lived on campus?

Figure 3: How often would you recycle if there were recycling bins provided at the apartment where you currently live?

Discussion

The findings from this research project show support for the hypothesis that if Mount Pleasant apartment complexes provided tenants with recycling bins, located next to the existing trash bins, that the majority of residents would make use of them. There were two main objectives of this survey. The first was to determine what percentage of CMU students were willing to recycle, and the second was to see if it would be worthwhile for apartment complex owners to invest in recycling bins.

The study showed that for students currently living in apartments 19 percent (n=34) always recycle, 34 percent (n=62) recycle often, 31 percent (n=57) recycle rarely, and 16 percent (n=29) never recycle. Similarly, when living on campus, 22 percent (n=40) always recycled, 30 percent (n=54)  recycled often, 21 percent (n=38) recycled rarely, and 13 percent (n=24) never recycled. The additional 14 percent (n=26) had never lived on campus or did not have recycling available to them when they did live on campus. If there were recycling bins provided at apartment complexes, 64 percent (n=117) replied that they would always recycle. Thirty-one percent (n=57) replied that they would recycle often, three percent (n=6) said that they rarely recycled, and one percent (n=2) said they never would recycle. These responses, especially those to question 3, support the hypothesis that a majority of students would use recycling bins at apartment complexes. It is possible that the number of students (64 percent) who responded that they would always recycle at an apartment versus the 52 percent (n=94) of students who always or often (22 percent and 30 percent, respectively) recycled while living in the dorms is higher for a variety of reasons. One could be because the increasing awareness of the “green” movement has helped make people more sensitive to the finite resources available, making more people see the benefit of recycling. A second reason could be because of the lifestyle in the dorms—those students eat mainly at the dining commons and are just starting to live on their own. By the time they move to an apartment, they are more responsible and willing to do something extra, such as recycling a plastic water bottle. Convenience is still an issue, but the willingness to do something like recycling is growing annually by society as a whole.

Although society as a whole is assessing the impact of recycling on entire communities and the planet as a whole, this sample consisted only of Mount Pleasant college student apartment residents, providing several avenues for future research. Similar research could be done in other university towns for other college students residing in apartment complexes to increase the ability to generalize these findings.  Future research could also include apartment complexes that already do provide recycling bins, or have recycling bins provided by the city, to poll a random sample of those residents to discover if the recycling effort is as high in a real life setting as students perceived they would be. Finally, a survey could be conducted to determine how many apartment residents, whether college students or not, save their recycling and take it to the nearest recycling bins. All of these avenues of research could help college students, apartment residents, and apartment complex owners determine the importance and value of recycling long-term.

One limitation to the survey related to the question “If you ever lived on campus before (i.e., dorms), how often did you recycle when you lived on campus?” The intent of this question was to determine if recycling was more prevalent when living on campus since there currently are recycling bins provided within all dorms. However, trends are changing so rapidly that some of the students lived in the dorms at a time when there was not access to recycling, or had not lived in the dormitories at all.

Relating back to previous studies, the findings show that people are willing to recycle more often when it is convenient and manageable for them, as shown in the 2005 study on multi-family dwellings (Ando, 2005). One solution would be to distribute tote bags, like the city of Seattle, in lieu of the more prevalent larger recycling bins that are sometimes placed by trash receptacles. For the students living in apartment complexes that do not provide access to a close recycling bin in their complex, this method would make it convenient for residents to take their recycling to another location and offer an efficient alternative that does not currently exist.

A few possible design implications from this research include ideas for new construction. Interior design of multi-family dwelling units or apartment complexes could include storage space for recyclables, whether it is space for a bin, a second (labeled) trash can, and/or additional pantry space for a tote bag(s). The overall design of apartment complexes could provide bins on each floor, within each building, or adjacent to every outdoor trash bin. If recycling is a priority, now and in the future, it could easily be accommodated in design solutions, much the same as trash collection and removal is already incorporated in current layouts. As the “green” movement picks up momentum and more people are open to and demanding means of recycling, change will hopefully come to everyone, even apartment complex residents, which will help to reduce the resources ending up in landfills or increase the resources that are available to be used in the production of new products/materials.

References

Ando, A. W., and Gosselin, A. Y. (2005). Recycling in multifamily dwellings: Does convenience matter? Economic Inquiry, 43(2), 426-438.

Binder, L. (2008, June 22). Apartment recycling. Retrieved January 25, 2009 from http://earth911.com/blog/2009/06/22/apartment-recycling/

Hill, J. F. (2009, August 17). Some apartment complexes are offering recycling to attract tenants. Retrieved January 26, 2010.

“Recycling in Apartments” (2003). Recycling at apartments may be in the bag by ’08. In Seattle, portability is at the heart of diversion. Waste Age, 12.

Rigert, M. (2008, July 16). Orem man finds it’s not easy being “green.” Daily Herald Newspaper. Retrieved from http://www.heraldextra.com/news/local/article_9a94abd7-c488-5c27-9361-36c5776a4321.html

 

Appendix A

Sample Paper Survey

  1. How often do you currently recycle while living at your apartment?
    1. Never
    2. Rarely
    3. Often
    4. Always
       
  2. If you ever lived on campus before (i.e., dorms), how often did you recycle while you lived on campus?
    1. Never
    2. Rarely
    3. Often
    4. Always
    5. Have never lived on campus
       
  3. How often would you recycle if there were recycling bins provided at the apartment where you currently live?
    1. Never
    2. Rarely
    3. Often
    4. Always

 


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