I have a friend who is super passionate about trash. Actually, more correctly stated, I have a friend who is passionate about diversion.
“Unless you or someone you love is in diapers, you should not have trash.” He tells me. “Inconceivable!” I think to myself as I see my properties trash enclosures on Monday morning, heaped in waste.
As property managers, we are lucky when the residents properly sort the trash into the recycling and trash dumpsters and we do not have contamination. When we are lucky, they actually bag their trash (it gets really nasty really fast when they don’t) and if we are extra fortunate, they put the trash in the trash containers and don’t just drop it near the trash enclosure or trash room.
Yet as I stare at the mountains of trash heaped in my dumpsters, like something out of the Pixar move “WALL-E” I know my friend is right. It’s just hard to think differently about trash on a residential property.
Trash is a management challenge. I often tell people that multifamily is the step child of commercial real estate and residential (AKA: houses). We use utilities very differently than either category. Trash is a prime example. In commercial, the recycling ratio is much higher as there is typically a ton less food waste and very rarely diapers and material wastes (like sofas and clothing). Additionally, separation of recycling v. waste occurs at the workspace with room for larger containers in a more remote location. In houses, there is space for the occupant to have multiple containers for wastes (trash, recycling, compost) outside of (but in close proximity to) the home. However most of our communities have loads of food waste, and lack space for sorting. Yet our large containers, designed for the mass amount of waste and materials are not conveniently located for all residents. Even if your community is designed for all three container types in the trash rooms and chutes, there is still a matter of space for sorting within the apartments themselves. Most multi-unit dwellings were not designed to have a sorting area. How do we ask people to make room for trash staging when most of these homes were not designed with any space for trash?
As our populations continue to increase the value of land for development will push most waste facilities further from urban locations. Costs of fuel will increase the cost of trash as our waste needs to be delivered further out. To combat these costs, I suspect that cities will increase trash fees further and implement programs that require residents to recycle, and compost. The future of trash is diversion, even for multifamily. States like California already require a diversion rate of 50 percent (that means that on your property only 50 percent of what is picked up is trash and 50 percent has to be uncontaminated recycling material or compost.) By 2020, California will require these diversion ratios to be 25 percent waste and 75 percent recyclable/compostable material. The legislation allows for penalties for property owners who do not comply with the law. Cities like Austin are pushing to a diversion rate of 95 percent by 2040 (that means only 5 percent of your waste is trash and the rest is recycling or compost.) Portland has a goal of 9 percent diversion by 2030 and offers tips and tools for getting property owners to these lofty goals. I could go on. If you do a quick internet search you will see that the majority of the States in the United States have some sort of recycling and/or recycling ordinance currently. If you think about it, the future is already here!
So my friend (who is passionate about waste diversion) is right, unless we or the ones we love are in diapers, there should not really be much trash. In know what you are thinking, “Inconceivable!” You are asking yourself, “How do we get to such a low volume of trash?” Most would imagine that the solution to the great trash caper is some sort of technology. A lovable robot that sorts material and compacts trash for us. Perhaps a magical trash can that sorts whatever you drop into it (like coin counters). Perhaps each site will be equipped with rockets designed to blast their trash into the sun. As much as I would love all those solutions, I believe that the future of trash management actually has nothing to do with technologies (which ultimately become really gross e-waste), but with human beings. The future of trash management involves customized programs that are community specific and lead by members of that community. I am pointing to the residents themselves. This type of grass roots trash experience is where there is real potential for not only diversion but a greater sense of community. Yes, what I am proposing may sound crazy, (crazier than trash robots) and a lot of work upfront. A localized, resident customized trash program will not happen without support and communication of the site team, who will ultimately have to be emotionally prepared for trash enthusiast; however once the community trash program is up and running, the benefits to the community can be significant. Lower trash costs, cleaner enclosures (less impact on maintenance), and fewer complaints about trash will be the reward for the upfront efforts. So, in a world where we will have doors that unlock themselves when their occupant approaches and groceries that are delivered by drones, we will spend more time collaborating, and working on concert with the residents who live near us to economize our waste, working together to make the world a better place. That is the future of trash.