Trash Talk #2 – The Challenges of Apartment Recycling

Last week Metro held a series of its Dialogues for the Region focusing on ‘Accelerating Multi-Family Waste Diversion’ (i.e. apartments and condo’s).

A tall order indeed. Compared to the 55% diversion achieved from single family homes in the region, only 16% of waste from apartments and condominiums is getting recycled. Doing the math and looking at it from the other end of the tail pipe,  the fact that 84% of waste from apartments and condo’s is going to landfill despite over 25 years of public education means we need to change our strategy dramatically in order to achieve Metro ‘s, 70% waste reduction targets by 2015.

No doubt, implementing effective recycling programs in apartments and condo’s presents a formidable challenge, such as:

Lack of space – there just isn’t enough room to fit all the totes and multi material containers for source separated recycling. When planning and designing new buildings, ‘recycling room’ space and size tends to be clawed back and sacrificed to gain more parking or unit floor space, both considered to be more lucrative and desirable in the marketing and selling of the units.

This is a hard trend to buck in Lower Mainland’s soaring property market.

Anonymity –  In a multi-family building, it is very difficult to control and track tenants who do not follow the recycling rules, resulting in 2 significant impediments:

1) Non-compliance with current recycling regulations – many banned items such as plastics, metal, glass, paper , electronics, batteries, paints, tires, wood are still being thrown (illegally) into the garbage

2)  Contamination – proper separation of materials is not done and the bins of recyclables are either down-cycled or landfilled because the materials are all mixed together, in many cases with garbage and cannot be processed and sold to recycling markets

In the multi-family sector, it is difficult to detect where problems of non-compliance or contamination occur in order to provide more information and education around landfill bans, behaviour change and active participation in the recycling programs.

Lack of Enforcement -Despite the current landfill bans (see above items), there is still no mechanism in place to require apartments and condo’s to provide recycling and waste diversion services to the tenants. A case was made during the presentations, that pressure from tenants asking landlords and property managers to provide recycling in the buildings can be an effective tool.

Lack of Service Providers –  Why should it surprise us that many garbage companies are not overly-enthused about providing recycling and waste reduction services to multi-family buildings, or that they mix all the separate containers into one dump truck – as was the experience of one property manager who witnessed her building’s ‘recycling collection’ ? Garbage haulers are not set up to divert, sort and process recyclables for the respective markets. Asking garbage companies to help reduce and divert waste is essentially asking them to entirely change their business model.

There are numerous recycling service providers in the region and they can be found through reputable recycling directories like Recycling Council of B.C. or Metro Vancouver Recycles. When contracting recycling and waste diversion services it is essential to ask what happens to the materials, what recycling markets and recovery. If tenants are doing their part to reduce, recycle, divert and re-think  their  waste, you want to make sure you know where it’s going when it leaves your recycling bin.

Getting apartments and condo’s to match the current 55% diversion rate is indeed a tall order. 3 very simple solutions can help us get there:

 Municipalities need to:

  • Ensure ample  ‘RECYCLING ROOMS’ are built into the plan, and  decrease the space allocated for the building’s garbage as part of the permitting process
  • Require all buildings to implement recycling programs and assist property managers in accessing the information they need to provide their tenants on landfill bans and recycling by-laws

Tenants and residents need to:

  • Be an informed customer – ask the hard questions – if tenants are doing the hard work on the front lines by reducing, separating and recycling, be sure to find out what happens to those materials and how they are being recycled and recovered once they leave the RECYCLING ROOM

For more info on Metro’s Zero Waste Challenge and upcoming Future Dialogues for the Region go to: