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Bingo helps reduce apartment waste as residents buy in

A city that has some successes to celebrate, sets out to do more
Sat Oct 10 2009

Under the B, egg cartons.

Under the G, margarine tubs.

Residents of a 330-unit apartment building near Lawrence Ave. E. and Kingston Rd. hear that kind of call when they play Sharon Henry's bingo game: Numbers are replaced by items that go into Blue Boxes or Green Bins.

It's part of Henry's volunteer effort to increase recycling in her Toronto Community Housing highrise, and it's paying off: A year ago, the building filled six dumpsters of garbage each week. It's down to four, now joined by three bins of recyclable Blue Box materials – papers, plastics, glass and metals – and another of organic wastes for composting.

The 65-year old retired bank employee aims to eliminate one more garbage container within a year.

At the outset, people were confused, Henry says. "It was, `Oh no! Another thing to think about.'" Now, thanks to the bingos as well as posters, meeting presentations – even door-to-door collections – recycling comes more naturally. But she isn't letting up.

"We need a full-tilt boogie to get more spirit into it... You need to keep reminding people," of what's involved and the benefits – fewer $80 fees for each garbage dumpster, a cleaner building and better environment.

Henry's experience is instructive, as Toronto pursues its own goal to divert 70 per cent of all wastes from landfill by the end of next year – without incineration.

It's now at 45 per cent, which seems unimpressive when Edmonton and a handful of American cities already claim 70.

Still, Toronto gets high marks for an aggressive and ambitious program that must deal with the fact half its residents live in highrise buildings and townhouses, where promoting recycling is especially tough.

The city "has one of the most comprehensive waste diversion programs in Canada," says Heather Marshall, of the Toronto Environmental Alliance. "It's probably the top one."

The program extends beyond the regular Blue Box materials and Green Bin kitchen scraps. This fall, it's expanding into curbside pickup of household hazardous wastes and electronic gear.

Toronto is also trying harder than most, albeit with limited results, to shrink the waste stream.

It banned plastic water bottles from its properties, imposed a 5-cent fee on plastic grocery bags, and attempted to curb the use of toss-away coffee cups.

But better results from multi-unit buildings are essential. Henry's techniques might not be appropriate for all highrises; community housing has unique issues. But the intensity of her effort must be replicated.

So, for example, the city will experiment with a mobile collection service for electronic equipment, says Geoff Rathbone, who manages Toronto's program: A vehicle will visit highrises at set times, and residents will be invited to bring their discards down during the preceding hour.

The need for highrise involvement is also a major reason Toronto lets Green Bin wastes be put out in plastic bags. The policy has generated criticism because of the potential for slight contamination of the final compost – although Toronto's passes purity tests – and, until a buyer is found for the plastic residue, a stream of waste to be trucked to landfill.

But it helped to produce a 90-per-cent participation rate in single-family homes – compared to about 50 in neighbouring municipalities that ban plastic – and reducing what Rathbone calls the "yuck" factor is crucial for highrises.

More generally, Toronto must also cope with the flood of "problem" packaging and other materials – such as containers comprised of several materials that can't be separated, or clear, hard-plastic clamshell packs that are labelled recyclable but have no buyers.

The provincial government has asked Waste Diversion Ontario, which oversees the system, to recommend, by the end of February, how to cope with these materials.

It's is also considering a more consistent system across Ontario that might limit Toronto's ability to lead. It would require companies that make or import Blue Box materials to pay the entire cost of recycling, instead of the current half. It might also result in these so-called "stewards" running the programs, too.

As posted: http://www.thestar.com/news/sciencetech/environment/article/706415--bingo-helps-reduce-apartment-waste-as-residents-buy-in

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