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Commercial Recycling Education and Outreach Activities – Focus on San Diego’s Multi-Family Community Program

Case Story

Community: San Diego (San Diego County)

Population: 1,300,000


The City of San Diego’s mandatory recycling ordinance (adopted in November 2007) requires businesses to recycle, including both large and small multi-family apartment. To achieve compliance, the city works hand-in-hand with haulers through franchise agreements, as well as with apartment property managers, to offer technical assistance and education about recycling, including site visits to multi-family units. The city also requires annual written communication between property owners and tenants and onsite signage to encourage tenants to properly recycle specified materials.

Program Highlights

  • The city offers extensive recycling information on its website and hand delivers packets with recycling requirements tailored to multi-family complexes (apartments and condominiums).
  • The city offers technical assistance by both city recycling staff and haulers to property managers to help establish and monitor placement of recycling containers, signage, and conduct tenant outreach.
  • Haulers are required to have at least one person on staff who can speak knowledgeably about the city’s recycling requirements.
  • The city conducts ongoing code enforcement activities at multi-family complexes to verify compliance with minimum mandatory recycling requirements and to identify complexes that have subscribed to recycling services. Although fines up to $1,000 can be assessed for noncompliance, the city relies primarily on educational engagement, which has resulted in good cooperation from multi-family property managers.

Lessons Learned

  • Working with a wide variety of stakeholders early on helps immensely to ensure all stakeholders’ concerns are heard, and to the maximum extent possible, incorporated into the final ordinance. It is then possible to enlist stakeholder support for the recycling program.
  • Working directly with property owners and managers is effective in promoting a better understanding of how to implement the city’s recycling requirements.
  • Using franchise agreements as a tool to require haulers to provide recycling services for multi-family units creates a better climate of cooperation in implementing the city’s recycling ordinance.

Resources to Learn More

The Rest of the Story…

The City of San Diego’s mandatory recycling ordinance, adopted in November 2007, requires residents in all multi-family complexes to recycle. All multi-family complexes with 50 or more units must recycle a minimum of 40 percent of the total collection service capacity for recycled material. Multi-family complexes with fewer than 50 units must recycle a minimum of 30 percent of total collection service capacity for recycled material.

Reaching capacity limits at the Miramar Landfill, the City of San Diego pursued inclusion of commercial businesses and the nearly 227,000 multi-family units in the city into its recycling program. After meetings with stakeholder groups1, the city’s recycling ordinance took effect in January 2008 and was phased in over a two-year period. Prior to this, the city offered recycling services only to single-family residences and small multi-family complexes, while private haulers provided recycling services to businesses and larger multi-family complexes on a voluntary subscription basis.

After expansion of the commercial recycling program, along with implementation of a construction and demolition (C&D) debris deposit ordinance and a surcharge on C&D debris at the City’s Miramar Landfill, the citywide disposal reduction rate climbed from 55 percent in 2006 to 66 percent by 2009. Similarly, refuse service measured in cubic yards and subscribed to by both commercial businesses and multi-family complexes decreased by 10 percent from 2008 to 2010, while recycling services increased by 76 percent. The city’s mandatory recycling requirements, plus heavy educational outreach, produced the significant increase in recycling at multi-family complexes.

Program Elements

City staff and haulers are both responsible for educating property managers about recycling compliance. City code enforcement officers monitor recycling efforts throughout multi-family units to both improve compliance where recycling exists and to bring those complexes without recycling services into compliance. Packets with information about how to set up onsite recycling are delivered by city staff directly to multi-family properties.

Property managers must annually notify all tenants by mail about recycling requirements, including location of bins, materials to recycle, and mandatory compliance with the ordinance. Haulers, through their franchise agreements, are required to work with multi-family complexes to ensure compliance. The city offers extensive information and outreach materials, including sample letters to tenants, signage requirements, container specification, information on how to set up onsite recycling, and more.

Each month, the city highlights a multi-family recycler of the month. It also gives annual awards to complexes that have exemplary participation in the recycling program. The city’s website features success stories as well. All of the educational outreach to encourage compliance with the city’s commercial recycling ordinance emphasizes that compliance is mandatory and that increased recycling often reduces cost of disposal services overall, as recycling typically costs approximately 25 percent less than disposal services in San Diego.

Partnering with Apartment Association

In partnership with the San Diego County Apartment Association, the city made available 45,000 woven bags with imprinted recycling information for distribution by haulers and property managers for compact, in-unit collection of recyclable materials. This was enough to reach 20 percent of multi-family units. In addition, the San Diego County Apartment Association provides voluntary model lease addendum language for use by property owners to convey the city’s recycling requirements to tenants.

Compiled February 2011

This story was prepared in partnership with the California Department of Resources, Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle).

1Stakeholders included the San Diego County Apartment Association, the Chamber of Commerce, Building Owners and Managers Association, International Facility Management Association, San Diego County Taxpayers Association, and California Restaurant Association San Diego County.



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