Culture Of Waste Reduction Needed To Improve Progress Toward Diversion Goals - Condo Magazine

By Josephine Nolan

Condo Magazine

There are a couple of built-in problems when any government or other body attempts to regulate some form of human activity. One problem is that the business or entity being regulated, if it is profit driven, will try to cheat. Consider the recent much-publicized case of Volkswagen and its emissions-concealing software. For no other reason than to protect its profits, the carmaker deliberately lied to consumers and regulators. The case of coffee rivals Starbucks and Tim Horton’s may not be as egregious as the Volkswagen fraud, but both were found to be cheating, at least at the individual franchise level, on their recycling claims: CBC’s Marketplace reported that the two food chains’ coffee cups, and there are billions of them, are not always being recycled, but thrown into the garbage that goes to landfill. It is cheaper to do that than to recycle them.

The other problem that gets in the way of regulation is that even when people may agree with the intended aims of a given regulation, they often don’t comply. It isn’t necessarily that they don’t want to comply: it may be simply that they don’t know how, or it’s too inconvenient. This is likely why in the city of Toronto the diversion rate of household waste from landfill is 68 per cent for single-family homes but just 29 per cent for condos and apartments. The overall diversion rate in the city is just 53 per cent.

Are single-family home owners nearly three times more committed to recycling than condo and apartment dwellers? Not likely. Single-family home owners have a range of coloured bins—blue, black, green—for putting out their garbage. It’s relatively simple to do: bottles and papers go here, kitchen scraps go here. People who live in condos and apartments are not less committed to diverting their kitchen waste and other materials; they just don’t have the option in many cases. And in many cases what is needed above all else is leadership.

Why is compliance so low in condos?

The City of Toronto first implemented a mandatory Residential Multi-Unit Green Bin Program in 2008. Any building that refused to participate would be denied any other waste collection services provided by the city. The city says that its green bin program is “one of the most successful” on the continent.

However, the Toronto Environmental Alliance, or TEA, was skeptical. If the program is so successful, why are diversion rates not higher? Since city residents put out approximately 1 million tonnes of waste each year, that means 470,000 tonnes of waste is still going to landfill, given a diversion rate of 53 per cent. And why is that rate just 29 per cent for condo and apartment dwellers?

"This success story is about more than just a few recycling signs and more bins, it’s about creating a culture of waste reduction. Plentiful signs (in many languages) and regular feedback to residents ensures that everyone has the information they need. The staff practice what they preach—the office and shared library are furnished with reused furniture, books and plants. Building staff and residents are proud of what they’ve achieved: sharing the success (and the savings) is a key part of keeping the momentum up."

TEA did a study and found that the answer is simple: most of what people put in their garbage shouldn’t be there. In the first place, most condos and apartments don’t have green bins for organic waste collection, but even in those that do have green bins, people don’t use them properly. TEA says that 70 per cent of what people put in their green bins shouldn’t be there. As well, they found that more than half of the average condo dweller’s garbage consists of organic material, and nearly one-quarter consists of recyclables that should be in the blue box.

TEA did find an exception that makes them hopeful, an older Scarborough condo building called Mayfair on the Green. The building reportedly achieved an 80 per cent diversion rate thanks to some relatively simple procedural changes made by the building’s management, with the cooperation of residents. Residents can use the building’s one garbage chute for organic waste only; everything else has to be taken by residents to a drop-off site downstairs in the building. According to reports, besides improving the condo building’s diversion rate, the changes have reduced waste disposal fees from $1,500 per month to around $150.

Much of the credit for the success goes to the building’s superintendent, who personally went door-to-door to talk to residents, giving them flyers explaining the program and its benefits, which only goes to show that leadership is critical in getting people to work together towards a common goal.

TEA points out that Toronto already has the necessary waste diversion programs in place to drastically reduce our garbage and reach the city’s goal of 85 per cent diversion. That’s the good news. The other good news is that buildings like Mayfair on the Green show that high diversion rates are within reach. The building is a success story, says TEA, because it has created a “culture of waste reduction,” and the staff “practises what they preach.” The answer is “refreshingly simple: dedicated staff and ongoing education.”

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