Five years, five apartment complexes, and only one with a recycling bin. Yeah, I move way too much.
In all that moving, it’s surprised me how few apartment complexes offer any kind of recycling. In addition to the places I’ve lived, I’ve toured dozens of complexes and rarely, if ever, do I find one with a recycling program.
One complex said it was too expensive for them to have recycling bins brought in, while another said they didn’t think their residents wanted one. My current complex has a bin, but I routinely see people throwing trash bags into it, despite the giant recycling logo printed across the side.
Recycling in an apartment can feel like an impossible task, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are the four steps my family has taken to begin recycling in our apartment. Hopefully, you can apply these same steps in your life to begin recycling.
1. Start With the Easy Stuff
When we started recycling in our new apartment, we focused on just a few materials. These were materials for which we knew we could find a local recycling drop-off point.
You’ll make the biggest impact if you focus on easy-to-recycle materials. Here are a few suggestions:
- #1 plastic (water bottles)*
- #2 plastic (milk jugs)*
- Paperboard (cereal and snack boxes)
- Aluminum cans
- Office paper
- Grocery bags (paper and #2 or #4 plastic)*
- Clear glass
*You can refer to our plastic recycling codes infographic for information about what those numbers mean.
If your city has a recycling location, chances are high they accept at least some of these items. You’ll also want to keep your list relatively short in case you have to visit multiple locations to drop off your items.
2. Find Drop-Off Locations Near You
Before you start searching for drop-off locations, you may want to talk to someone in your apartment complex office. The first month we lived in our current apartment, we took our recycling to a couple of local drop-off locations nearby. Then one day, we discovered our complex had a recycling bin hidden behind a wall with no signage. That discovery has made life so much easier!
So, check with your complex in case they have a hidden recycling bin. They may also know of the local recycling drop-off locations.
If they can’t help you, it’s time to use Earth911 Recycling Search. Just type in the material you’re looking to recycle and your ZIP code, and you’ll discover many of your local drop-off locations.
If the Earth911 directory doesn’t turn up any results, visit your city’s website and search for their recycling page. It may be that your city has recently added recycling drop-off locations in your area that haven’t yet made their way into the Earth911 recycling directory.
3. Pick a Spot for Your Bin
This may seem like a no-brainer, but when you live in a cramped apartment, finding the space for both a recycling bin and a trash can may be tough. In a previous apartment, our recycling often ended up stacked on top of our dryer until we could take it to the local recycling drop-off location. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked.
The main things to consider are ease of access and visibility. When you’re rushing around the kitchen to get lunch packed and breakfast cooked, it can be easy to forget you have a recycling bin and let that empty cereal box slip into the trash can.
When I see my recycling bin out in the open, I think about recycling way more than when it’s tucked away in the back of our pantry.
4. Encourage Neighbors to Participate
Remember back in step #2, when you spoke to your apartment complex management about recycling? You should also ask them to let other residents know about the recycling options in the area.
If your complex doesn’t know what recycling options are available nearby, let them know about Earth911 Recycling Search. You could even encourage your complex to email all of the residents with that recycling information.
As you get to know your neighbors, you can also encourage them to recycle. This can be as simple as letting them know that you found a local drop-off location for recycling, in case they were looking. Many people are willing to recycle; they just need a little help. You could even set up a rotating schedule of neighbors who do the drop-off for a few units so that it’s less of a burden on everyone. Ready to set up a recycling program for your community? Our online guide will walk you through the steps.
If people know what to recycle and where to recycle it, the odds of them actually doing the work to recycle are going to go up.
According to a 2016 Pew study on recycling, people who live in communities that value recycling have more recycling options. Even though it may not feel like much, as you encourage those around you to start recycling, you’ll be on the road to increasing the recycling options in your area.
Editor’s note: Originally published on May 2, 2017, this article was updated in March 2021.