Maximizing waste diversion in multi-unit buildings poses a great challenge for municipalities. Inconvenience has been a major impediment to increased participation rates. The presence of a garbage chute on every floor makes disposal convenient but, in most cases, would-be recyclers must carry their containers and fibres down the elevator to a depot on the ground floor or outside the building.
In large urban centres (especially Ontario and Quebec), a very large number of people live in multi-unit buildings. In Toronto, for example, 62 per cent of the population lives in multi-unit buildings, yet they contribute only 10 per cent of the recyclable material collected by the municipality. Failure to increase diversion in this segment of the residential waste stream will make it impossible for aggressive overall diversion goals to be met.
Automated recycling systems offer an effective solution to this challenge. Systems such as those offered by Recycltech Limited make recycling more convenient as they make use of the existing garbage chute to also separate recyclables. Residents simply select a button on a control panel beside the chute door which displays choices of garbage, newspaper, or commingled containers (cans, glass, and plastic), etc. The dropped material is then diverted at the bottom of the chute into an appropriate bin. The Hi-Rise Recycling System fits into any type of municipal recycling program and comes in three varieties known as the two-, three-, and six-separation system respectively.
The company has installed almost thirty systems to date, for both retrofit and new construction projects. The systems have been effective in reducing garbage in several types of environments including condominiums, non-profits, and senior’s buildings. The two- and three-separation systems are particularly economical for existing buildings because they allow existing compactor, garbage, and recycling bins to be utilized.
In January 1998, the Summit Condominiums (located at 705 King Street West in Toronto) became the first building in Canada to install the three-separation system. In order to evaluate its effectiveness, CSR: Corporations Supporting Recycling funded a study performed by the consulting firm Resource Integration Systems (RIS). Recovery rates for recyclable materials were measured before and after the installation.
Prior to the installation, residents at the Summit deposited their recyclable material into centralized 95-gallon roll-out carts located in a storage room on the first floor. After the system was installed, residents began recycling on each floor. Garbage, recyclable paper, and recyclable containers were deposited into the existing garbage chute.
The introduction of this recycling system at the Summit has significantly improved the recovery rate of recyclable materials. Convenience has been the main reason. Overall, recovery rates increased 67 per cent. Fibre recycling increased 93 per cent, while commingled materials such as aluminum increased 46 per cent. Building staff now set out only two 6-cubic yard garbage dumpsters for pick-up each week. Before the system was installed, four such dumpsters were set out. The amount of recyclables diverted with the old system (standard walkdown recycling depot) increased from 78.3 kg/hh/yr to 130.6 kg/hh/yr after the system installation. This case study achieved an overal recovery rate of 58 per cent during the five-month sampling period.
The CSR is also supporting studies of two of the latest retrofit installations in Toronto: the Jockey Club Condominiums (in East York) and the Savoy Condominiums (in North York). Geoff Rathbone, vice-president of marketing and technical development with CSR says, “Clearly, in a city the size of the new Toronto, waste and recycling efforts need to focus on high-rise buildings. These systems seem like a good way to get people to recycle in their building. They essentially bring curbside recycling to each floor.”
Since there are currently no economic incentives for consumers in most places in Ontario to reduce garbage, Recycltech hasn’t been able to sell systems based on reduced fees for garbage collection. If municipalities implement user fees, buildings with the system would realize significant savings.
For retrofits, municipalities could offer some kind of incentive or tax credit for lower garbage volumes. For new construction, bylaws could require builders to make recycling as convenient as garbage disposal. Via multi-unit buildings, municipalities could make tremendous gains in garbage reduction and avoided landfill costs.
Christine Smith, B.E.S., is sales assistant; Kevin Towers, BASc., MBA is general manager; and, Jason Tower, B.E.S., EMPD is a retrofit specialist at Recycltech Limited (the Canadian subsidiary of Hi-Rise Recycling Systems Inc.) in North York, Ontario.