In 2012, an estimated 405,600 (79%) of the 512,500 multi-family households in BC receive packaging and printed paper (PPP) collection service from local governments or private sector companies.  As with other jurisdictions, annual recovery of PPP is lower for multi-family households than for single-family households.  Available data suggest that BC multi-family residents recycle an average of 52kg of PPP per household per year, compared to an average of 173kg of PPP per household per year for single-family residents.

Approaches to increasing recycling in multi-family buildings vary depending on the age and design of the building.  Older buildings are often challenged by lack of space for, or limited access to, a central recycling location.  These challenges can be avoided in new buildings through building code and development standard requirements that address the need for convenient recycling.  Several BC jurisdictions have enacted or are considering bylaws to mandate adequate space allocation for recycling in new multi-family buildings.

There are many reasons why recovery of PPP is lower in multi-family buildings than from single-family dwellings:

  • Multi-family households may have fewer people per household, so less PPP is produced;
  • There are limited financial signals to encourage multi-family residents to recycle, similar to garbage can limits or pay-as-you-throw in place for many single-family households;
  • There is often less space within multi-family living quarters for storage of waste, especially if segregated into PPP and garbage;
  • Disposing of garbage may be more convenient than recycling PPP;
  • Residents are typically required to bring PPP to a common collection point which may be at a distance from some residential units;
  • There may be limited storage space for PPP in densely developed areas unless the developments have been designed to ensure sufficient space for recycling activities;
  • if recycling bins are often full or overflowing, residents may be less likely to consistently participate;
  • Multi-family building residents may be new to the community, unfamiliar with recycling program requirements and/or may experience language barriers;
  • Multi-family building residents experience less peer pressure as participation in recycling programs is less visible to their neighbours than curbside set-out at single-family dwellings; and
  • Enforcement of improper set out is more difficult at multi-family buildings due to the shared use of a common collection point.

Multi-family buildings cover a broad range of housing types including social housing, rental units and condo buildings.  Condo residents who have relocated from single-family homes typically adapt their previous recycling behaviour to the multi-family building setting.  Some buildings serve singles or seniors demographics resulting in one or two occupants per unit.  Approaches are needed for each type of building to engage the resident in effective recycling practices.

Best Practices to Increase Recycling

Cities across North America and Europe have identified a number of best practices to improve participation in recycling programs and significantly increase capture of recyclables compared to buildings without best practices in place.  Identified best practices to increase multi-family building recycling include:

  • Make recycling as convenient as, or more convenient than, garbage disposal;
  • Implement a comprehensive promotion and education campaign involving superintendents and management as well as residents;
  • Develop and deliver training programs to building staff and owners on how to promote and operate the recycling program – supportive and engaged building superintendents and owners are key to the success of the program;
  • Provide incentives to building superintendents to increase recycling;
  • Involve interested and engaged residents as recycling champions – at least one or two champions per building;
  • Provide an in-unit recycling storage container (bags or small boxes) for each household;
  • Provide adequate recycling storage at the central collection point (a general rule is that a 360 litre cart is sufficient for 7 units and a 4 cubic yard bin is sufficient for 60 units); and
  • Establish a central storage area that is indoors, convenient (e.g. near laundry room or lobby), well lit and feels safe for residents (e.g. not in dark, remote corners of deserted parts of the building).

Keep recycling!