The pandemic has put pressure on Waste Management’s recycling program because we are disposing of more waste at home than ever before. Here are some ways you can help fix the problem. (Waste Management)

The pandemic has put pressure on Waste Management’s recycling program because we are disposing of more waste at home than ever before. Here are some ways you can help fix the problem. (Waste Management)

How to fix the COVID recycling mess at apartments and condos

Waste Management shares best practices to help get your multifamily recycle system back on track.

  • Friday, October 23, 2020 1:30am
  • Life

By Karissa Jones / Waste Management

Multifamily living presents unique challenges when it comes to recycling. Add a pandemic into the mix, and it can feel overwhelming to keep the shared system organized.

As an apartment resident myself, I know firsthand the frustration of taking the time to clean and carefully sort recyclables, only to find dirty, non-recyclable materials put in the shared container by a neighbor. COVID lifestyle changes have put even more pressure on the system, with the community disposing of more waste at home than ever before.

The good news is Waste Management’s outreach team has developed best practices and digital education tools to help get multifamily recycling back on track.

Break down boxes. More online ordering with contact-free delivery means more cardboard boxes in the recycling. These can fill up recycling containers quickly. Lead by example by breaking down your boxes to ensure there is space for your neighbors’ recycling. Check with your property manager about sharing this reminder by posting signs at waste enclosures and in other common areas such as elevators and mail rooms.

Educate neighbors virtually. Waste Management’s award-winning outreach team has developed educational resources via Waste Management eConnect that can be accessed from the safety of your apartment or condo. Find videos, digital recycling guides, and a virtual scavenger hunt at and share with neighbors through an email blast, eNewsletter or online portal.

For example, our “Recycle 101”videocovers the basics of recycling, including keeping recyclables free of plastic bags. Another video on “COVID-19 Recycling and Disposal Tips” helps you figure out what to do with COVID masks, plastic gloves and cleaning product bottles.

Increase your service. More people at home means more garbage and recyclables. Consider increasing your service subscription. Between online school and new work-from-home environments, people are spending more time at home. This means waste that used to be disposed of in the cafeteria or break room is now filling up your property’s dumpsters.

Right-sizing service eliminates unsightly overflowing containers, allows space for everybody to recycle, and discourages cross-contamination of garbage and recyclables. Talk to your property manager or HOA about contacting Waste Management at 1-800-592-9995 to update service levels to fit the needs of your community’s new lifestyle.

Troubleshoot problems. Volunteer to champion the recycling program. A champion is a resident passionate about maintaining a strong recycling program at their complex. They serve as the eyes and ears for recycling right. This person closely communicates with the property manager on insights such as types of non-recyclable items frequently ending up in the recycling. This partnership allows your neighbors to receive timely and specific feedback to improve recycling habits. Many property managers and HOAs are looking for champions right now. It’s a great time to raise your hand!

Start composting. With more people cooking at home, consider talking to your property manager about adding food scrap compost collection at your multifamily community. Not sure whether it’s available at your complex? Visit or call 1-800-592-9995.

As we face this “new normal” head-on, it is important to hold onto recycling as a community value to help us live more sustainably. By connecting with neighbors and property managers on solutions to refresh recycling programs, we can ensure recycling right at home remains a constant through these turbulent times.

Karissa Jones is a senior associate on Waste Management’s education and outreach team, as well as and a board member of the Washington State Recycling Association.

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