apartment building

Many of you originally learned about our service when we were out tabling somewhere, like an eco-fair or farmers market, so you know that one of the first questions we ask is, “What kind of building do you live in? Single-family home? Multi-unit building?” And without fail, the people who live in apartment or condo/co-op buildings answer in a really dejected tone as though there’s no hope for them to ever be able to compost. I’m here to tell you that there is hope, people! In fact, our founder Erlene Howard created this service because she lived in a condo building and wanted to be able to divert her food scraps.

Recently I wrote an article called “Composting Programs Made Easy” in the Spring 2023 issue of a magazine called Chicagoland Buildings and Environments. In it, I wrote about composting in multi-unit residential buildings. Here is a link to the publication. The article is on pages 29-32. (I still get a thrill reading a magazine electronically but we made a pdf of just my article and put it in the Press section here on our website, if you want to print it out or send just those few pages to someone.) It describes how two very different types of multi-unit residential buildings—a vintage, 3-story, 18-unit co-op building and a modern 16-story, 248-unit condo building—provide our composting service to their residents.

It’s written for management companies because that is the audience of that particular publication. We wanted to let you know how you could make this happen in your own building.

Some people begin by using one of our 5-gallon buckets to collect just the food scraps from their own unit. It’s easiest if there is a place outside to swap it out but we’ve had customers leave it with their doorman. When you begin separating out your food scraps, you become an expert and are in a better position to sell the idea to the other residents of your building. That is when you could consider composting communally with our 32-gallon Neighbor Totes.

We’re happy to attend a zoom meeting with the co-op board to answer questions. We’ve done this many times and it helps the process go more smoothly. Even though these buildings are technically residential, because there are a lot of people involved, we offer a free training over zoom for the participants to go over what can be composted and other logistics of smoothly integrating it into your household.

Who pays for it?
It depends. In some cases, residents chip in and pay for it together the first year. As it gains popularity and users, often the condo or co-op board adds it to their budget.

Does everyone need to participate?
Though that is the ultimate goal, most programs begin with just a few households participating. On average, 24 people fill a tote in a week. You would schedule your pickups accordingly. If you only had six participants, you could have the tote swapped out every four weeks. Every two weeks, what we call biweekly, and weekly swap outs are more common.

Where should we keep the Neighbor Totes?
This is going to be slightly different for each building. You want to find the sweet spot between what’s convenient for residents and what’s inconvenient for non-residents or residents to put random trash in. The alley is probably not the best choice because our bins are not locked.

Apartment buildings
We service more entire condo/co-op buildings than apartment buildings, but we do service some entire buildings. Sono East, a luxury apartment building in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago, has been using our service for nearly 10 years, since the fall of 2013. E2 Apartments, in Evanston, has been our customer since the spring of 2021.

One of our customers, a live-in landlord of a 7-unit vintage apartment building in Evanston, is so happy to not be dealing with a disgusting, smelly dumpster anymore, particularly in the summer months. The contents of conventional landfill dumpsters are tipped, meaning emptied, into garbage trucks. Our totes and buckets are swapped out with clean, washed containers every time.

Even if you live in a single-family home, maybe somewhere down the line you’ll want to downsize and move into a multi-unit building. We’ve been in business long enough that there are customers who have downsized and taken their composting service with them.

Author Details
Zero Waste Consultant | Collective Resource, Inc.

Mary Beth strongly believes that, “It’s always better to be doing something rather than nothing.” If you’re thinking of composting at home, she can help you work out what your particular “something” can be.

She’s confident a solution can be tailored to fit anyone’s needs and ambitions. “Anyone who eats can be a CRI customer, whether you are an individual or a large organization. I want you to understand the advantages of composting, and I can show you how CRI can make it easy.” Mary Beth has successfully designed waste diversion strategies for individuals, schools, houses of worship and other communities. She’s received the governor’s Environmental Hero award for her work at her daughter’s school. Whether you’re starting with a backyard bin, a kitchen bucket, a worm farm, or large-scale commercial collection, Mary Beth can be your good-natured guide.