Residents back universal recycling programs

focusgroupsAs part of its Zero Waste DFW Project, the non-profit group Texas Campaign for the Environment Fund conducted opinion polls and focus groups among apartment residents and building managers in Dallas. This public opinion research was the first of its kind in Dallas, designed specifically for multi-family residents from diverse socio-economic groups and geographic regions. The results have led to a greater understanding of current attitudes of residents and management toward recycling in multi-family buildings.

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This research was split into two public opinion projects: one conducted via phone polling of 400 multi-family residents in Dallas (quantitative data), the other using focus groups and personal interviews with multi-family residents and property managers (qualitative data). Results of these studies suggested that an overwhelming majority of Dallas multi-family residents think that recycling is important and beneficial to the environment, and that most would support a city-wide policy for universal recycling access.

The polling results showed that:

  • Although most residents in multi-family buildings do not have access to recycling programs, 95% of surveyed residents who do have recycling at their complex do participate in the program to some extent. If recycling is available, residents will use it.
  • 83% of respondents ranked recycling as 3 or higher on a 1-5 scale of importance.
  • pollresults58% of surveyed residents would support a multi-family recycling ordinance; 22% said they would not support such a policy.
  • All ethnicities and age groups within the survey had either a majority or plurality in favor of a multi-family recycling ordinance.
  • 51% of surveyed residents said they would be willing to pay extra to gain recycling services; 25% said they would not be willing to pay. (Cedar Hill residents, for instance, are paying $1 extra per month since that city began its multi-family recycling program in 2015.)

Results from the focus groups suggested that public education plays a pivotal role in increasing recycling participation and collection rates. Evidence for this appeared repeatedly during focus groups and in-depth interviews:

  • Many participants in the study confessed they were unclear on exactly which items are recyclable.
  • Although residents agree that recycling is important, they were less certain about why it is important beyond the general knowledge that it’s good for the environment. Many participants were not familiar with the specific environmental or economic benefits of recycling.
  • Several participants pointed to a lack of information and transparency as a reason to be skeptical about recycling. Some questioned where the material ends up when it leaves their homes. (Unfortunately, a major hauler, Waste Management, was recently found to be taking curbside recycling to landfills in several DFW cities.)

This research also suggests that without a city-wide policy in place, many building owners and managers will continue to choose not to offer recycling. Multiple apartment managers said exactly that during in-depth interviews. Cost, hassle, lack of on-site physical space and lack of interest among residents were the reasons most frequently cited by building managers not to recycle. In fact, several property managers who participated in our study were already aware that the city is considering implementing a recycling ordinance – and they are simply waiting until they are required by the city to start a program.

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