Trying to Save on Multifamily Utilities? Look Into the Trash


Trash and its costs don't jump to mind when property managers think about multifamily utilities. Apartment trash management is generally seen as a “back of house” fixed cost. The dumpsters and recycling bins placed throughout an apartment community are far behind water, gas and electricity when operators look for utility management efficiencies.

But apartment trash management costs are high, and often riddled with unnecessary expenses. It’s a burden that puts pressure on operational budgets and ultimately costs residents more to live in a community.

An overlooked opportunity to save on multifamily utilities

A set-it-and-forget-it mentality in scheduling pickups with waste management companies can be a big culprit. Thousands of dollars in needless expenses can be racked up because pickups are made for containers that aren’t full.

The average apartment property wastes big money each year on hauling fees for dumpsters that are only, on average, 46% full. This means a property most likely pays full price for a service that hauls a fraction of the amount negotiated in a contract.

That’s just the beginning of cost inefficiencies associated with trash disposal, the forgotten stepchild of multifamily utilities.

Contamination of recyclables is also a big issue in parts of the U.S. Mixing trash and other dangerous or hazardous materials with bottles, cans, plastics and other recyclable items, even inadvertently, can result in expensive fines.

But all of this can be avoided, thanks to new technology in apartment waste management.

Apartment trash service monitoring

Trash service monitoring is becoming a game changer, helping multifamily communities save nearly 40% on what they’re paying to have garbage and recyclables hauled away. The technology is taking a page from the management of other utilities, where gas, electric and water are measured to track costs.

By understanding the full breadth of trash and recyclables and implementing waste metering, property managers can more efficiently manage expenses and save significantly, without a lot of effort.

Cameras keep an eye on trash and recycling

In partnership with Compology, the RealPage Waste Management Solution, a new addition to RealPage’s suite of Sustainability products, is multifamily’s first cloud-based system capable of monitoring the trash and recyclables in each dumpster.

Compology’s rugged dumpster cameras combined with artificial intelligence automatically monitors the fullness, content, contamination levels and location of each dumpster at a property, as well as service event activity. The solution enables property management companies to drastically reduce the cost of managing waste while also providing visibility into waste operations, including vendor service verification.

“The cameras retrofit into commercial and industrial dumpsters,” says Jason Gates of Compology, who developed the camera solution utilized by the RealPage Waste Management Solution. “We track the location through GPS and the tilt of the container so we can tell when it's been dumped. We're taking images of the inside of the container, and we use those images to automatically determine their fullness by volume and the types of materials that are going inside them.”

Trash service monitoring paints a true picture of trash

Compology’s cameras have already been installed in over 160,000 dumpsters and containers around the world. They take pictures of dumpster contents four times a day and use artificial intelligence to distinguish recycling waste from trash and compost materials. They can quickly identify seven categories of content and contamination, and send alerts to properties so contaminants can be removed before fines are applied.

The information gives properties a complete picture of their trash management program and creates opportunities to save money, as well as improve their environmental footprints. Waste-hauling companies can also use the data to improve the efficiency of their routes.

For properties, having an eye on waste can lead to dramatically reducing waste management expenditures: as much as $1,800 per container per year in savings, a reduction of up to 40% in cost. The cost of the program can be included in the resident bill-back charges for waste.

Contamination fees are reduced by as much as 80%. Actionable alerts and analytics promote diversion from landfills and other sustainability practices, like those promoted by GRESB, EPA and many government entities nationwide.

The secret to controlling waste costs

It all starts with getting the right trash service monitoring program in place to fit the property’s needs, Gates says.

“The first step is what we call automated right-sizing, which matches a multifamily property's actual waste production with its service needs,” he explains. “So it's picking the right container size, frequency of service and service days to make sure that the property is paying for the service they actually need and is reducing the amount of truck traffic that might cause noise or safety hazards to its residents.”

The second piece, Gates adds, is around education and specifically contamination, a hot topic in the waste and recycling industry. Residents and site teams are often confused by recycling requirements, causing communities to incur contamination fines and/or additional trip fees.

To make recycling financially viable in the long term, cleaner streams are necessary, Gates says. “The biggest thing that I've noticed is that residents often have the right intention," he explains, "but they don't have the right education and coaching to help them execute on sorting their recyclables properly.” Gates suggests that it's a good idea to add a bit of coaching to the camera-based waste management solution. Together, they're an unbeatable solution to an overlooked problem in multifamily utilities.

For more on RealPage’s multifamily waste management solution, watch “Let’s Talk Trash: Utilizing Technology to Modernize Trash Management.”

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