the other side of waste management in peel: shocking lack of recycling in apartment buildings

Goodbye, old friends
In the 10 years I've lived in Mississauga, I've always been impressed with Peel Region's recycling and trash management. Now that I live in an apartment, I'm seeing another side of those services, and it's not pretty.

First, there's no "green bin" - organics - recycling. I've grown so accustomed to throwing all food waste, coffee grinds, tea bags, tissues, wet paper, dog fur, and other organics into the green bin, it feels very strange and wasteful to toss these in the trash.

Instituting an organics recycling program for apartment buildings would be challenging, but other cities with denser populations do it, so it must be possible. I don't know if Toronto is still in the pilot phase or if green-bin recycling has been rolled out to the whole city, but at least it's begun. On the Peel Region waste management website, I find no information that anything like this in the works. (I will tweet this post to Peel, so maybe I'll learn more.)

Starts like this...
Second, and perhaps most importantly, recycling in the building requires an extra step, somewhat time-consuming (in a short-term, selfish kind of way). And there is no incentive to take that step.

For houses in Peel, there is a two-bag standard for trash. Anything over two bags requires a tag; tags cost $1.00. At the same time, recycling is simple. You keep a large blue bin handy somewhere, toss items in it, and leave it at the curb on pick-up day. It's very easy to determine what's recyclable and what's not, either online (an easy wheredoesitgo.ca redirects) or through the booklets Peel distributes to every household.

...ends like this...
Many people, especially those in large households, do buy tags. In our last house, because there were tenants in the basement (that is, two households), we often needed one tag. And many people skirt the issue in creative and less-green ways. But generally speaking, the two-bag standard, the minor cost and inconvenience of garbage tags, and the ease of recycling, combine to keep household trash to a minimum.

Here in our apartment building, it's exactly the opposite. When you move in, building management distributes large carry-bags and information about recycling... full stop. A flyer notes that recycling is mandatory in Peel, but no one monitors or accounts for how much trash any household tosses down the chute. There's only one recycling room for the entire 20-story building, and it's on the first floor. The minor inconvenience of a separate trip for recycling plus no disincentive for trash must equal a much lower diversion rate.

...and this.
And indeed, when I toss the dog-waste bag into the building's dumpster, I see bags of household trash clearly containing bottles, cans, jars, and all manner of recycling. I find this so depressing!

In one sense, apartment living is greener than living in a house. Apartment-dwellers take up less space, use less energy, and don't have water-sucking lawns. But if the majority of residents are not recycling, it's a very different picture.

In order to increase recycling rates, recycling must be easy, and there must be a disincentive to not recycle. For most people, simply helping to take care of the environment by producing less trash is not enough.

Our building is 35 years old, which is old for Mississauga. I realize that when these buildings were constructed, recycling was not a consideration (although it could have been), so there's no extra room on each floor, as you will find in newer buildings. The room with the trash chute is little more than a closet, so there's no room for blue bins. Still, is there not some way to encourage recycling? To make it less cheap and easy to throw everything away? There must be examples from other cities and counties from which Peel could learn.


Amy said...

That is really sad. I find that I get very disturbed these days whenever we stay somewhere that does not make recycling easy and obvious. It was terrible in the hotels we stayed in while in Europe. I am so accustomed to recycling now that I feel guilty if I have to throw a plastic bottle or newspaper into the trash.

laura k said...

Same here. Whenever I travel, I am horrified at how much waste I create.

The worst was in Peru, which I've mentioned many times on this blog. The water is not drinkable, and unless you're camping, you have no opportunity to boil tap water (which must be boiled for a full 5 minutes in order to be safe!). So you buy water in plastic bottles. Millions of millions of plastic bottles. And plastic is not recycled there, only glass.

I always think of the mountains of plastic choking that beautiful country and the planet.

impudent strumpet said...

Green bin definitely hasn't been rolled out across all of Toronto yet, at least not for high-rises. When my current building was built in 2007, they'd installed a tri-sorter in anticipation of organic waste collection being extended to high-rises, but I've never at any point gotten the memo that it's now available.

Although my parents' building (in a different municipality of 905 than Mississauga) is even newer than that, and for some reason they didn't install a tri-sorter. I don't remember if they already have organic waste collection or if it's imminent. I've had a conversation with them where they discussed having to take organic waste outside being inconvenient, but I don't remember if that was in the present or future tense. I was focused more on trying to explain to them my idea for using the garbage chute for organics and putting "regular" garbage collection outside so they could make a persuasive case to their landlord, although they seemed to think trying to convince the landlord to make that change would be futile.

laura k said...

Thanks, Imp Strump. I tweeted to Peel and they replied, asking me to email with the building information so they could follow up. But it's not just this building, it's apartment buildings in general. I will email... but I'm not optimistic about anything changing anytime soon.