No one disputes that multi-residential recycling rates everywhere are abysmal and, because they consistently lag well behind single family recovery rates, it’s the next strategic frontier in residential solid waste diversion.
In Ontario, the Association of Municipal Recycling Coordinators (AMRC) has a group of waste managers dedicated to the issue. Stewardship Ontario (industry funding organization for Blue Box wastes) gives it top billing in the Effectiveness and Efficiency Fund priority list, and the Government of Ontario included it in the 2007-2008 budget.
Accordingly, Environment Minister Laurel Broten recently announced a matching grant program involving six municipalities — Toronto, Windsor, London, Hamilton, Peel Region and Quinte — to pilot programs addressing the big question: What combination of tools and motivation is required to move recyclables from the garbage chute to the recycling bins? The municipalities share the $305,000 grant equally.
The City of Toronto, aspiring to a recently announced 70 per cent diversion target by 2010 has the multi-residential sector in the cross-hairs of its plans for improved recycling, including a volume-based rate structure that it anticipates will motivate both single family and multi-family households to pull up their recycling socks or shell out for the privilege of generating more then their fair share of waste. (See Editorial, June/July edition.)
The environment ministry money is helping to fund an ambitious pilot involving 30 apartment and condominium buildings where five systems will be tested.
Toronto’s Renee Dello, coordinator of waste diversion planning, explained the buildings have been divided into six groups of five buildings each where the following systems will be tested:
* Group one: apartment size blue box
* Group two: plastic bag and rack system, using the bag to transport recyclables to the bins
* Group three: apartments: a choice of either the blue box or the bag and rack system
* Group four: condominiums: a choice of either the blue box or bag and rack system
* Group five: a blue box for their apartment and a larger container will be placed in the chute room on their floor where recyclables can be taken
* Group six: control group.
Toronto will be monitoring another project underway at the Toronto Community Housing Corporation where all residents are being given reusable tarpaulin bags.
The next step, expected to get underway before long, will establish a baseline measure for recycling diversion by weighing the waste and recyclables for a four week period, before any communication with residents begins.
Following that, Renee’s team will conduct an all-building benchmark attitudes and behavior survey and, when completed, will explain the program and deliver the recycling tools to residents. Waste and recyclables from all buildings will be weighed weekly for several months.
The other grant recipients will be watching the Toronto pilot closely.
London’s Jay Stanford (the city’s manager of environmental programs) says the scope of Toronto’s project allows them to focus more directly on approaches to multi-residential recycling that are particular to their program policies.
“London believes that to operate a sustainable recycling program, everyone has to have a stake in the process. In our experience, when people are given something free there is a tendency to take it for granted. We don’t provide garbage bags or cans, so we don’t provide recycling bins or boxes. Instead, our practice has been that apartment building owners and operators should buy their own recycling bins and residents should pay a few dollars for their blue boxes or other carrying container,” says Stanford.
London’s investment in the grant program will focus instead on three key components of a successful multi-family recycling program: incentives, owner/operator commitment and knowledgeable, engaged superintendents.
Stanford is looking at the idea of encouraging apartment owners and operators to think about increased recycling diversion at their buildings by adding recycling capacity. He plans to offer a deal on bins; perhaps a “buy one or maybe two bins and get one free” deal. This thinking also will apply to in-house containers.
The third component of his pilot will focus on educating and motivating superintendents, who are the frontline contacts, to be recycling ambassadors.
Quinte and Windsor have developed pilot projects that require broader investment and have applied to Stewardship Ontario’s E&E Fund for additional dollars. Rick Clow, general manager of Quinte Waste Solutions, points out that his focus will include examining the socio-economic factors that he believes play a roll in effective multi-residential recycling diversion.
Peel Region, too, is taking a different approach to its pilot multi-residential project. Adopting a mix of mass media and social marketing communication tools, Peel will promote increased recycling through staffed lobby displays and ads on buses and in bus shelters in areas with a high concentration of apartments. The region also is developing a Blue Bag User Handbook for tenants and a recycling handbook for superintendents to boost general awareness and knowledge, using reinforcements such as explaining what products are made from recycled materials and thanking people for their efforts. Peel will report on the program by monitoring the weight of recyclables and waste generated at its apartment buildings.
“This project dovetailed perfectly with our on-going multi-residential program,” says Trevor Barton, Peel’s supervisor of waste management program planning. “We were happy to have the additional funding to kick our program up a few notches.”
Note: At time of writing, program information from Windsor and Hamilton was not available.
Barbara McConnell is president of McConnell Weaver Communication Management and the project manager/developer of the “Recycling Works” campaign for Stewardship Ontario. Contact Barbara at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit www.blueboxmore.ca. For background on Waste Diversion Ontario, visit www.wdo.ca and for Stewardship Ontario, visit www.stewardshipontario.ca