Etobicoke condo adds organic-only garbage chute - Toronto Star

Isabel Teotonio
Toronto Star
October 13, 2017

Highrise condo building adopts a waste reduction method the city intends to study in order to keep the 50 per cent of household waste that is organic from ending up landfills.

Paul Rubbra, superintendent of 812 Burnhamthorpe Rd in Etobicoke, came up with the idea of adopting an organics-only garbage chute to keep food waste out of landfills. (CARLOS OSORIO / TORONTO STAR)
Paul Rubbra used to cringe at the sight of bags containing food scraps, coffee grinds and paper towels that had come sliding down the garbage chute of this 22-storey condominium in Etobicoke.

Not anymore. That’s because this highrise, at 812 Burnhamthorpe Rd., converted its chute to one that’s only for organics, a move to keep those items out of landfills. It is one waste reduction method the city intends to study early next year.

“Converting was easy. There was no opposition, no arguments,” says the superintendent, noting the garbage bags were mostly filled with organics to start with. “I got a lot of compliments saying it’s so much easier. That’s the key: as long as it’s easy for (residents) to do, they’ll do it.”

Two other condos in this complex, known as Millgate Manor, are also thinking of converting to organics chutes.

Before the switch in May, Rubbra says only about 30 per cent of residents put their organic waste in the appropriate green bin. Most people didn’t want the hassle of carrying it, sometimes in a dripping plastic bag, through the hallways, downstairs and outside to an overflowing smelly bin that attracted wasps, skunks and raccoons. So they tossed it down the garbage chute.

Since the change, he says, nearly everyone is properly disposing of their organic waste. That means they carry down their garbage and recycling to bins located outside. Rubbra says they don’t mind because the organics chute allows them to conveniently get rid of smelly waste items, such as cat litter, diapers and fruit and vegetable scraps.

Paul Rubbra says nearly all residents at 812 Burnhamthorpe Rd in Etobicoke are complying with using an organics-only chute. Previously, only 30 per cent of the building's organic waste was going into green bins. (CARLOS OSORIO / TORONTO STAR)

The city wants to improve waste diversion rates, particularly in multi-residential buildings. Nearly half of Toronto residents live in apartments, condos and co-ops, but they recycle and compost only 27 per cent of their waste, compared with 65 per cent in single-family homes.

But even if buildings have the capability to separate all three waste streams that doesn’t mean they’re doing it. Currently, only buildings with city collection have to separate recycling, garbage and organics, but those with private collection have no obligation.

That’s why Toronto is considering a bylaw that would force all residential buildings to collect organics, regardless of who provides waste collection services. Meanwhile, the province of Ontario is considering banning organics from landfills.

“This all comes down to conserving our environment,” says Jim McKay, general manager of Solid Waste Management Services for Toronto. “In an age when we’re really trying to reduce our carbon footprint, and trying to better manage climate change impacts, waste from landfill sites is one of the largest producers of greenhouse gas emissions in the world right now.”

McKay and his staff want to know what waste diversion and reduction practices make a difference — and what factors are necessary. They’re currently reviewing information gleaned from the 2016 Mayor’s Towering Challenge, which was a six-month contest open to residential buildings to increase recycling and reduce more. They want to know if a particular practice, or program, can be successfully replicated elsewhere.

To find out, the city will run a series of experiments, beginning in 2018, testing practices in various buildings, with different demographics. For instance, it may test the success of collection programs for batteries, compact fluorescent light bulbs and paint cans; and sharing programs for things such as tools, electronic gear and camping equipment.

One practice it will study more closely is converting a garbage chute into organics-only. The city is now identifying which buildings have done this and which ones are willing to do it.

“We’re trying to isolate what is the recipe that’s making it work in these buildings,” explains McKay. “Is it converting the chutes to organics that’s having the impact? Is it a heavily engaged super on-site, or a champion in the building?”

At the Etobicoke highrise the recipe for success includes all those ingredients.

Last year, Rubbra came up with the idea to convert the chute to collect organics. There was already a strong practice amongst condo owners of recycling so diverting even more waste seemed the next logical step. Property management and the board of directors were keen to learn more.

They spoke with Emily Alfred of the Toronto Environmental Alliance — an environmental advocacy group — who told them about a Scarborough condo building called Mayfair On the Green that had successfully cut its waste through converting its chute to organics only.

“Organics make up about 50 per cent of household waste, so it’s a really important part of the waste stream to tackle,” says Alfred, a senior campaigner.

And, she says, less garbage means lower waste fees. In Toronto, you only pay for garbage pickup, whereas recycling and organics is free.

“Highrise buildings can spend up to $4,000 a month on garbage collection,” says Alfred. “If they reduce that amount of garbage and increase the amount of recycling and composting they can dramatically cut their waste fees.”

After a tour of the Mayfair building, a dedicated team of residents from the Etobicoke building spent four months preparing folks for what was coming. Messages were posted on electronic bulletin boards in the lobby and elevators, information meetings were held, and notices were handed out door-to-door. And the city supported the change, providing posters and pamphlets on waste diversion in various languages that were displayed in the lobby.

“We just let everybody know we were making the switch and we just did it,” says condo owner Elaine Buckstein, who’s on the board of directors at 812 Burnhamthorpe Rd., and who helped spearhead the change. “It’s worked tremendously well . . . we can help save the planet, maybe reduce our costs and we can feel good about what we’re doing.”

On each floor the chute opening was reduced — a six-inch chain was attached — so that it was just big enough to fit a small grocery bag of organics, but not a big garbage bag.

The conversion was an immediate success, recalls Rubbra, noting there’s far less garbage being produced.

“This can be done in any building,” he says. “It’s just a matter of promotion, time and training.”