Earlier this year London municipal council voted to support a range of Zero Waste strategies to help London achieve the 60 per cent waste diversion goal set by Ontario’s environment ministry. One of these strategies aims to increase recycling rates in London’s multi-residential buildings. Blue Box recycling in multi-rez buildings is a continual challenge for municipalities that offer this service; however, because recycling rates are low, these often represent the next-least-cost-tonnes to recycle. With funding available from Waste Diversion Ontario’s (WDO) Continuous Improvement Fund (CIF), this is a good time for Ontario municipalities to invest in their multi-rez programs.
London (population 380,000) offers recycling collection service to 162,000 households, of which 49,000 are in multi-residential buildings. There are 750 buildings of six+ units, with an average building size of 65 units. In 2009 the average capture was 65 kg per unit per year. This represents approximately 30 per cent of all available blue box materials. The recycling rate for this program is only half of what it is for the other two thirds of the households, which are single-family detached homes, semis, small buildings of five or fewer units, and row-housing.
Several program differences contribute to the lower recycling rate. These include:
1. Less convenient recycling: For multi-rez buildings there’s usually a communal area that (unlike convenient curbside access) may not be close to where people live.
2. More convenient garbage disposal: Residents can dispose of garbage at any time, and for buildings with garbage chutes, access is on every floor. Curbside households, by contrast, must wait for the scheduled collection day.
3. Not enough recycling containers (more on this below): building owners are required to purchase 95 gallon carts and the number available for residents to use is limited by available storage space and the building owner’s budget. Curbside residents can purchase their own recycling containers (blue boxes) and there’s no limit to how many they can set to the curb.
4. Less informed residents: London provides infrequent recycling updates to residents in multi-rez buildings, and generally on an as-requested basis. Curbside households on the other hand receive an annual calendar full of program updates.
2005 Pilot & 2010 CIF Project
In a 2005 pilot project London isolated these four factors noted above to learn how they impact recycling performance. The project report found that “Increasing the amount of capacity to store recyclables between collections was found to have the most significant effect on recycling rates. This was tested at four building sites. The increase in capacity at the test buildings ranged from 50 per cent to 140 per cent and the resulting increase in the recycling rate ranged from 35 per cent to 100 per cent”
The project was funded by Stewardship Ontario’s Effectiveness & Efficiency Fund and can be found on their website. This project laid the groundwork for London’s current project of implementing multi-rez best practices (see below) with an emphasis on increasing the number of recycling containers. Based on the CIF best practice guidelines of providing 50 litres capacity for each residential unit, London’s buildings have only 50 per cent of the recommended number of recycling containers. The goal is to double the number of recycling containers (360 litre carts). To reach this goal, London will assist building owners to purchase recycling carts by subsidizing the cost of them. And to get the best available price, London has partnered with other municipalities to issue a cooperative cart purchase tender. To encourage building owners to buy enough carts to reach the best practice level, London is using an incentive pricing structure. The project has received funding from CIF and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment.
Implementing best practices
The London project is one of more than a dozen multi-rez projects underway in Ontario, funded by the CIF. What they have in common is their goal to implement identified best multi-rez recycling practices. These include:
• Conducting site visits to all buildings;
• Creating a database of property information (everything from contact information to number and location of recycling containers);
• Collecting baseline information about each building’s recycling performance and barriers to recycling;
• Increasing the number of recycling containers to the best practice minimum of 50 litres per unit (i.e., one 95 gallon cart per seven units, or one 4-yard bin per 60 units). This benchmark is based on the average provincial blue box generation rates for multi-rez buildings and the amount of container capacity required to store 70 per cent of recyclables generated if collected on a weekly schedule; and
• Distribution of promotion and education (P&E) materials to building residents, staff and owners.
In addition to providing funding to implement the best practices noted above, CIF has also developed tools and templates to assist. For example, promotion and education materials such as brochures, posters and a recycling handbook have been developed and there is web access which allows users to add their own municipal customization. There is funding available from CIF for this type of project and for innovative ideas and new technology that can increase recycling in multi-rez buildings.
Anne Boyd is Waste Diversion Coordinator for the City of London, Ontario and secondee to the CIF multi-rez project. Contact Anne at firstname.lastname@example.org