A program attempting to boost recycling rates in Atlanta’s apartment and condo complexes is gearing up for a year-long run with help from a Buckhead nonprofit.

The “Do You Recycle? Challenge” is a voluntary educational and promotional program from the Virginia-based nonprofit Recycling Partnership along with several local organizations. It aims to teach residents where and how to recycle in their buildings.

“That’s a big barrier — folks not knowing how to do it,” said Michelle Simard, the sustainability program manager at Livable Buckhead, a nonprofit that is a local promotional partner.

Michelle Simard, the sustainability program director at Livable Buckhead.

The direct incentives to property managers to participate are few: small grants for signage and similar materials, and recognition at some type of ceremony in summer 2022. But, according to Livable Buckhead, there are economic motives as well in rising demand for recycling programs from tenants and investors.

“A number of the properties are actually hearing from their residents that this is the number one thing they want done,” Livable Buckhead Executive Director Denise Starling said of recycling in local complexes. “It’s one of those things that’s an expectation now.”

The City already requires buildings of six or more units to offer recycling, according to Simard, but the details vary widely among properties and collection companies. 

Cecilia Shutters, the Recycling Partnership’s local program manager, says “the goal is to drive more participation and less contamination.” Contamination refers to items that are put out for recycling but can’t be recycled, are in the wrong container, or are improperly cleaned or prepared. 

The resources, Shutters said, will include “education materials, technical assistance, and measurement support,” with reporting on progress via an app. 

The Recycling Partnership estimates 1,500 complexes with more than 140,000 households are eligible to participate.

The nonprofit recently wrapped up a four-month pilot program with similar materials and goals, though without the app reporting system. The apartment companies AMLI and Gables participated; neither responded to comment requests. Specific data on the results were not available from the Recycling Partnership, but Shutters said around 5,000 residents received “direct education” from the effort.

The City is a partner in the current effort and has collaborated with the Recycling Partnership before, including a similar program in 2017 aimed at neighborhood curbside recycling. 

Live Thrive, the nonprofit that runs the Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials in Southeast Atlanta, is managing the local effort. Other partners include the Atlanta Housing Authority, the Georgia Recycling Coalition, Atlanta Recycles and the Atlanta Apartment Association.

The Recycling Partnership’s board and funders includes many packaging manufacturers and trade associations, such as the American Beverage Association and the Coca-Cola Company, whose foundation is helping to fund the Atlanta program. Some of those businesses and organizations have been involved in controversies about approaches to recycling, about which the Recycling Partnership did not have immediate comment. They have favored this type of voluntary, educational program over mandatory laws such as bottle deposits, which reportedly have a strong track record of boosting recycling rates in other states, though there are some signs of industry shifts. There is also controversy about manufacturers’ willingness to reduce the supply side of packaging waste; Coca-Cola is among the companies that have turned to all-recycled materials, but critics contend that most of their packaging remains unrecycled, instead going into landfills or littering the environment. 

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.