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RESOURCE: Communicating with residents about reducing waste

Whether it’s reminding residents about proper sorting rules like rinsing food containers, or letting  them know where to drop off their recyclables, here are some tips we’ve picked up from leading buildings across Toronto about effectively communicating with building residents.

Clear, consistent and repetitive communications for residents - new and old - is especially important in multi-residential buildings. Waste sorting rules can differ  building to building, depending on whether they have City waste service or private waste service. For example, what residents recycle at work, school, or when visiting a relative may not be the same as what they can recycle in your building.

1. Clear and simple posters and signs everywhere.

Ensure that up-to-date sorting guides and clear signs are posted in every waste room, on every bin and in common areas above bins. This helps residents identify where to put waste, ensures they never have to look far for the information they need, and provides regular reminders about proper sorting.

Signs with images and graphics are a quick way to communicate and are proven to be more effective at sharing waste and recycling information. When including text on signs, keep the language simple, and choose large text. 

You can create custom signs for your building, or contact your waste service provider for signs and posters. The City of Toronto offers free posters, signs, stickers, guides and more to their customers.

For example, this building used a combination of free posters from the City of Toronto, and their own custom signs to fit their waste room. 

2. Share the messages in many ways. 

Repeating a message and sharing information in a number of ways can help reach all residents, and in a format that can help more people understand the information. 

Consider communication tools and methods already used in the building by staff and by residents - for example newsletters, resident meetings, a Facebook group or bulletin board.

Using multiple communication tools also meets the needs of different residents - sending a message by email may allow a resident with a screen reader, or translation tool, to better understand it.  Paper notices that use pictures may be more effective for residents who don’t use computers regularly and want to post it in their unit. 

For example, reminders about how to sort food packaging properly can be posted in the recycling room, sent out by email, and shared at resident meetings.

3. Let residents know where to go for information.

Ensure residents know where to get up-to-date and accurate information on how to sort waste and where it’s collected in your building, especially for special or complicated waste items. Let them know who they can contact if they have questions - such as a building staff member or a Green Team member- or provide the number of the waste service provider. 

This is important because residents may have different sorting waste collection rules away from home, or it may be a type of waste they don’t have frequently, such as furniture, renovation or medical waste.  

Provide posters and waste sorting guides for residents to post in their own unit. This is helpful for all residents in a household and for visitors. Simply searching on the internet for the answer can give incorrect and confusing information that doesn’t apply to your building’s specific waste services. For those with City of Toronto waste services, residents can use the Waste Wizard app or website to get accurate information. 

For example, this building makes waste guides in multiple languages available in the mail area for residents to take and post in their own unit.

4. Positive messages motivate residents to take action. 

Dealing with waste in a high-rise can feel anonymous, and it can be discouraging when sorting mistakes stand out and get more attention than all of the waste that is sorted perfectly. 

When communicating with your building, use messaging that builds a sense of community - share information with residents about the building’s goals for reducing waste, and the key areas of improvement. Using positive messages about what is possible and what steps residents and staff can take can be more motivating than negative messages that focus on blaming residents. 

Give feedback and celebrate progress - when building staff notice an improvement in an area of focus, post notices to share the good news with the rest of the building. This can let residents know that their efforts are worthwhile, and demonstrate that others in the building are working towards the same goal. This helps build positive momentum towards the next efforts to reduce garbage. 

For example, a North York condo sets a positive tone for new residents: the Green Team includes recycling and waste information in the welcome package and offers to answer questions and give a tour of the recycling room.

Top tips for communicating about waste: 

  • Label all collection areas and bins with clear signs
  • Signs with pictures are proven to be easier to understand and follow
  • Refresh signs when they get dirty or ripped
  • Use multiple communication methods to repeat a message 
  • Ask residents if they need information in a different language or format
  • Let residents know where to find information
  • Pay attention to common questions that come up 
  • Positive messages are motivating


Whether your building is just starting the path to zero waste, or you’ve had active waste reduction plans for years, communicating with residents is a key step to moving forward. 

The Community Strengths form in the Zero Waste High-Rise Project will guide you through an assessment of communication tools and strengths in your building. 

Find it here:  

The Waste Collection Assessment tool can help you walk through your building to identify where waste is collected and ensure that every area has clear signs and labels. 

Find it here:

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