Multi-family recycling numbers can no longer be ignored

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?

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.

Garbage in a BFI truck. Photo: Matt Lorenzi
Garbage in a BFI truck. Photo: Matt Lorenzi

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.

Matt Lorenzi

Matt Lorenzi is a really valued member of the Tenth to the Fraser community. Interested in joining our pool of writers? Please see these submission guidelines.

8 comments

  1. Good to see this development with multi-family housing in New Westminster. We have, per capita, more multi-family dwellings that most cities in the lower mainland. This make New West a great place to start.

  2. I hear that residents in New Westminster are getting a bill for these bins over $265.00 per house. Apparently this was not something people were aware of or informed about. I suggest if this cost comes to multifamily dwellings there will be a revolt since we have been paying double for years – by condo fees and taxes. This city is truly out of control with the spending and handouts going on. Every single thing from this city has gone up yet our quality of life remains the same.

  3. S&T, not exactly.

    The annual solid waste utility fee is $216.26, an increase of about 5% over last year, while MetroVancouver's tipping fee (what the City pays to get rido f the trash) is going up 20%… Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

  4. One thing to keep in mind is that the cost of waste collection in a multi-family building gets lost in the strata fees. This takes away from the sticker-shock of actually seeing what waste disposal costs. As well, creative strata councils can shuffle numbers here and there to cover cost increases. So incremental increases in waste collection will not alarm most people within a strata, especially when compared to the large budget items such as insurance, hydro and natural gas.

    1. It will be interesting to see how Stratas adapt, though. With tipping fees going up 20% this year, and projected to continue to to rise for the next decade, these costs will become more apparent. It might be in the Strata councils' own interest not to shuffle and hide the increases, but to put it in front of the redsidents. It could be as simple as an invoice every month, showing where each % of their strata fees went (except, I guess that would be a lot of paper, wouldn't it?).

  5. PJ
    With your cavalier attitude towards excessive costst, one might think you are either a millionaire, on welfare, just don't pay taxes, or do not live in New West and could care less about issues such as taxes. 5% increase is 40% more than would be required with a little efficiency built into the collection system, whether in New West or Metro Vancouver. NWEP is a good group but you should start advocating for cost reduction to go along with waste reduction. More people will listen to you.

    1. John, how is limiting our increased cost this year by 5% in the same year that Metro is putting up tipping fees 20% an example of “excessive costst”? (to be more precise, the tipping went from $82/T to $97/T, so it was only an 18% increase).

      Do you have any actual numbers to back up your assertion that “5% increase is 40% more than would be required with a little efficiency built into the collection system”. If that is a fact-based argument, and not something you pulled out of your…uh…trash, then I would love to hear your ideas. The NWEP has a TrashTalkers meeting coming up, I can get the chair of that group to have your idea put on the agenda.

      I think the City is interested in moving to fortnight pickup, and the NWEP is trying to collect some data to support that idea, as we think that will both encourage diversion of organics to the Green bins, reduce collection costs (and subsequently, solid waste utility fees), and help reduce the need for another expensive trash incinerator in our airshed.

      For the record: Millionaire, nope; Welfare, nope; Pay Taxes, yep; Live in New West: yep.

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