His apartment complex doesn't provide recycling, so Mitchell Smith stashes his cardboard boxes, glass bottles and paper bags in a utility closet.

When it's overflowing, Smith, 31, loads his car and swings by a public recycling drop-off site in north Columbus, where he lives.

"When you live in an apartment, you have a finite amount of space, so it's kind of a pain," he said of recycling. "In this day and age, knowing all we know about the environmental impact of human activity, it's important. It's a hassle, but it's worth it."

In Franklin County, nearly 70 percent of the waste stream that flows to the regional landfill could be diverted, according to the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio.

To get a handle on regional recycling attitudes and behaviors, SWACO undertook its first phone survey of about 600 residents late last year. The findings were released this month.

"There's not yet a full appreciation of how much material is literally thrown away in the landfill that could be recycled," said Ty Marsh, SWACO executive director. "We're literally and figuratively throwing away $40 million worth of materials."

The authority plans to conduct a similar survey every two to three years.

"We're really interested in comparing against ourselves," he said.

Here are some takeaways from the survey:

* Those who live in multifamily residences recycle less.

* Nearly half of residents in multifamily units -- apartment buildings, condominiums, townhouses, duplexes -- said they lack recycling services at home.

* A third of them do not recycle at all, the survey found.

Smith said when he and his wife first moved to Columbus, a lot of their recycling ended up in the trash. Eventually, they figured out they could stockpile it and take it to one of SWACO's more than 100 public recycling bins.

"The opportunity and option to recycle, to put everything in a box and put it on the curb, would be nice," Smith said. "Those obstacles certainly make people less inclined to recycle."

However, illegal dumping, a dip in the popularity of the drop-off program and an increase in operational costs have strained the recycling program in recent years, SWACO officials said.

Surging demand for rental units in the Columbus housing market has added a sense of urgency for recycling access. SWACO plans to work closely with housing developers to help smooth out logistical snags, such as space and cost, that dissuade property managers from providing recycling to residents.

"With the construction boom going on in Ohio, there might be a way to build apartments in a way that they can handle recycling," Marsh said.

About half of survey respondents said it's confusing to keep track of what items can be recycled.

Most think plastic yogurt or butter tubs can be pitched in their curbside recycling bins, but they can't. Another four in 10 mistakenly believe that plastic grocery bags are accepted in curbside recycling.

In reality, only a handful of materials are recyclable curbside in central Ohio: paper, cardboard, aluminum and steel cans, glass bottles and jars, cartons and jug- or bottle-shaped plastic.

Plastic films and bags can be recycled at most regional grocery stores. Whole Foods accepts No. 5 plastic tubs.

When people "wish-cycle" -- throw things in the recycling bin they hope or assume belong there -- it actually increases the cost of recycling, Marsh said.

"People just presume that everything that's plastic is recyclable, but it's not," he said.

The survey's good news, Marsh said, is that people want to recycle despite the barriers and confusion.

Almost 95 percent reported donating or giving away used items. Nearly half said they have taken advantage of used hazardous-waste collections and another 38 percent reported they depend on public recycling dumpsters. Almost one-third said they compost their food and yard waste.

On the whole, people said they believe in the practice's environmental benefits and nearly three-quarters of residents said they recycle regularly.

"It's an affirmation: Franklin County really views recycling as a point of pride," SWACO spokeswoman Hanna Greer-Brown said.

mrenault@dispatch.com

@MarionRenault