Green bins still only used in 15% of apartment, condos, city says

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Matthew Pearson, Ottawa Citizen

Nearly five years after it was introduced, the green bin organics recycling program is available in only 15 per cent of apartment buildings and townhouse complexes in Ottawa.

The city provided bins to all single-family dwellings served by curb-side garbage collection in of advance of the program’s 2010 launch. But multi-unit apartment and condominium buildings, as well as some townhouse complexes — where residents bring garbage and recyclables to a central location for containerized pickup — have proven much more difficult because the city requires the co-operation of property managers, condo boards or residents to drive the program.

That could explain why only 198 of the roughly 1,300 eligible buildings and townhouse complexes have green bins today, according to Marilyn Journeaux, manager of Ottawa’s solid waste services department.

Green bin service is available to every building in the city. Property managers or condo board representatives can call 311 and arrange for a waste inspector to visit the property and work out a plan for pickup.

“One of the barriers to apartment buildings is we literally have to work one-on-one with each building to figure out a solution to implementing the program in the building,” Journeaux said.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all package.”

The revelation that green bin use in apartments and condos is so low comes at a time when both Mayor Jim Watson and environment committee chair David Chernushenko say the city must do a better job promoting the use of organics recycling, particularly in multi-unit buildings, as part of a broader strategy to boost diversion rates and prolong the life of the city’s Trail Road landfill.

“It’s disappointing it’s that low,” Chernushenko said, adding he’d like to get a better understanding of the logistical challenges many buildings owners face.

Finding storage space for the large bins is the main challenge, Journeaux says, especially in older buildings designed with small garbage rooms or limited space outside. Building owners already had to make room for blue and black recycling bins, but there may be little room to squeeze in a green bin.

Lack of on-site superintendents, transient tenants, concerns about mess and insects, and language or cultural barriers in buildings with a high number of new Canadians may also make it tough to sell green bins to property managers, she said.

“We sometimes get calls from residents in buildings who want a program and the building management is against it or not supportive,” Journeaux said.

To make the program work, buildings often need a cheerleader — a tenant, condo owner or superintendent — to promote it and help coax residents to participate, she said.

Someone like Francis Ouimet.

The Hintonburg man surveyed fellow residents at the Parkdale Avenue condo building where he lived in 2012 and, once he knew there was enough support for his idea, got a program rolling. He’s since moved to another condo building in the neighbourhood and is in the final stages of rolling out green bins there, too.

Ouimet says he worked with the city to get the bins — both kitchen-sized ones for individual units and large, 260-litre ones for building-wide collection — and arrange for weekly pick-up. He also led composting 101 workshops.

“You can’t just put it there and expect everyone will know what to do with it,” he said.

The building’s tidy garbage and recycling room on the main floor, which is adjacent to the entrance and exit of the underground parking garage, had space to accommodate two of the larger-sized bins. A roster of volunteers take turns each week dragging them out to the curb for pick-up.

Meanwhile, the condo board bought a power washer to hose out the bins on a regular basis.

“That’s a pretty thankless job,” Ouimet admitted.

Yet insects and odours haven’t been an issue, he added, because residents either bag their food scraps or wrap them in newspaper.

Chernushenko said he would love to see all residents participate in the green bin program, but acknowledged that it isn’t easy for everyone — age, mobility and storing bins in tiny apartments all pose challenges.

He said he’s also interested in seeing whether more flexible rules around bagging food scraps and other organic waste are possible, as part of the city’s review of its source-separated contract with Orgaworld, slated for this year.

And, if the rules don’t exist already, Chernushenko said he’d like to find a way to require developers to include adequate space for green bin storage as part of design guidelines for proposed new residential buildings.

As for Ouimet, starting a program in his building just made sense, he says. Residents were already paying for it through their property taxes and were willing to participate if given the tools to make it possible, he said.

“Just because you live in a condo building doesn’t mean you’re less ecologically-minded than if you live in a house.”

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