This article was posted on Sunday, Jun 01, 2014

Over a quarter of the material found in multi-family garbage carts is food waste. Under current conditions, this material is sent to landfills where it decays without air and releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. By providing separate collection for compostable materials and educating tenants how to properly separate, this food waste can be turned back into compost that enriches soils in farms and gardens.

Starting July 1, 2014, multi-family residential properties with five or more units in several Alameda County cities will be required to provide adequate on-site recycling service for the amount of recyclable and compostable materials they produce. The new requirements are part of the second phase of the Alameda County Waste Management Authority’s Mandatory Recycling Ordinance 2012-01, which first took effect in July of 2012.

Phase 1 of the ordinance addresses the provision of sufficient recyclables collection and education to tenants. . The Alameda County Waste Management Authority has found that most multi-family property owners are in compliance or were able to come into compliance with minimal changes. Every jurisdiction inAlamedaCounty, exceptDublin, has opted into Phase 1. The followingAlamedaCountyjurisdictions have fully opted-in to Phase 2 of the ordinance:

  • Alameda
  • Albany
  • Berkeley
  • Emeryville
  • Livermore
  • Piedmont
  • UnincorporatedAlamedaCountynot covered by theCastro Valleyor Oro Loma Sanitary Districts

Other jurisdictions are expected to opt-in to Phase 2 in the future, including the City of Oakland effective July 1, 2016. 

In these jurisdictions, Phase 2 of the ordinance adds new requirements for recycling food scraps and food-soiled paper. In order to comply with Phase 2, multi-family properties with five or more units must:

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  1. Provide containers and service of sufficient number and size for recyclable materials (including cardboard, newspaper, mixed recyclable paper, recyclable glass and metal food and beverage containers, PET (#1) and HDPE (#2) plastic bottles).
  2. New! Provide containers and service of sufficient number and size for organics (food scraps and food-soiled paper).
  3. Provide information annually to employees, tenants, and contractors describing how to properly use the recycling, garbage, and organics containers.

Under Alameda County Waste Management Authority Ordinance 2012-01, property owners and managers have until the end of the year to complete the steps necessary to comply with the new Phase 2 requirements. No fines will be issued before January 1, 2015.Ordinance requirements differ by jurisdiction. Property managers are encouraged to check for details about their city’s requirements.  The website also contains resources and tips to help affected property owners comply with the ordinance.

Adding organics to the recycling and garbage collection system at a multi-family complex can raise new opportunities and challenges. A successful collection system for compostable materials is possible with careful planning and continuous education. Property owners can address or avoid issues of space and cleanliness with proper set-up and training.

Setting Up a Separation System

A carefully planned system is the first key to success. The ordinance requires that the number and size of collection containers be sufficient for the amount of recyclable and compostable materials.

  • Determine the needed capacity for recyclable and compostable materials. Visual inspections and monitoring of contents in the waste bin can provide insight into how much of each material the building generates. Property owners must also use assumptions about how much recyclable and compostable materials is generated by an average residential unit or tenant to quantify the total capacity needed.
  • Locate all three containers (recycling, compostable, and garbage) in equally accessible spots – make it convenient for tenants to do the right thing.
  • If space is lacking, talk to the waste hauler about size and pick-up frequency options. It may be possible to downsize garbage containers if tenants are properly separating their waste.

Educating Tenants and Maintenance Staff

A perfect set-up will only be successful if people understand how to use it. Both the maintenance staff who keep the bins clean and orders, and tenants who are responsible for sorting their waste, must understand their role in a successful recycling program. 

  • Label the containers clearly. Use visual cues, such as pictures of typical materials that should go into each bin. Property owners can create customizes signs with pictures at
  • Clean containers regularly or instruct maintenance staff to do so. Provide a schedule and guide for how to clean the containers. Proper maintenance can prevent potential odor and infestation issues.
  • Provide containers for tenants to use in their units. Educate them on how to use the in-unit containers and keep them clean.
  • Remind tenants regularly and introduce new tenants to the recycling system. The ordinance requires property owners and managers to inform tenants annually and upon move-in and move-out.

Many city-franchised service providers can provide free assistance with recycling and organics collection set-up. More ideas and contact information can be found online at Property owners that follow these guidelines are more likely to have a positive experience with separate collection of compostables and recyclables, and be in compliance with Phase 2 of the Mandatory Recycling Ordinance.

The purpose of this ordinance is to reduce the amount of easily recyclable and compostable materials deposited in landfills. It was designed to help Alameda County Waste Management Authority reach its long-term waste reduction goals — specifically to ensure that less than 10 percent of the waste sent to landfills by 2020 is easily recyclable or compostable material.

For additional information on the ACWMA Mandatory Recycling Ordinance 2012-01, including details about who is affected, how to comply and support materials, please visit


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