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.

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