This is a guest post by Matt Lorenzi. Matt is a New Westminster resident. He volunteers with the New Westminster Environmental Partners and sits on his building’s strata council.
The issue of garbage and recycling rates in multi-family dwellings is finally being addressed by Metro Vancouver.
The region’s Zero Waste targets are for 70% trash diversion by 2015. Single family homes are well on their way with 55% diversion, but multi-family lags far behind with an estimated 16% diversion.
So why such a disparity from multi-family to single-family? A number of New Westminster residents gathered at City Hall a few weeks ago to tackle this very issue. The results of the evening’s findings were numerous; everything from garbage chutes, poor signage, lack of containers, and language barriers were touted as reasons hindering recycling.
Municipalities and Metro Vancouver share some blame in these low participation rates. In many municipalities the collection of waste and recyclables from multi-family dwellings has been offloaded to private operators. While this in itself is not the problem, it does make it fairly easy to pass the burden of education and enforcement onto strata councils, building managers and the private haulers.
It appears the industry is starting to take matters into their own hands. One of the larger haulers is soon to install cameras on their trucks which will allow them to audit the garbage at the point of pickup. If the load is contaminated with too large a number of banned items, the resulting fine can be billed back to the building from where it was picked up. This same company stated that they incurred $600,000 in fines from Metro Vancouver due to contaminated waste. Clearly they are not interested in absorbing this cost alone. The result will be more responsibility for each building and in turn for each resident.
So what are the barriers to getting better participation in multi-family buildings? One of them main complaints is a lack of space. It takes a certain amount of commitment to put aside space in your suite to sort and collect. Buildings also have to make it easier and more convenient to participate. Many recycling rooms are out of the way and once you get there the bins are often full. There are some creative solutions being looked at; for example collection could be handled on each floor or in front of each suite using individual sized blue bins.
One of the greatest challenges living in a multi-family building is personal accountability. While costs for garbage removal is gathered through strata fees, individual behaviour is not factored into the equation. There is nothing stopping me from creating as much waste, or using as much hot water as I wish. The challenge is bringing everyone on board and having everyone behave in a similar manner. Barring a change in the way personal accountability is handled, education and behavoir change is the best bet in improving results.
The bottom line is that every year the cost of disposing garbage at a Metro Vancouver transfer station is expected to go up. This cost will be handed back to whomever produced it; be that a business, single-family home, or multi-family building. The days of cheap garbage removal are behind us and a more proactive, equitable approach to dealing with it is the only way forward.