Of Ottawa's 1,700 or so multi-residential buildings, only about 500 currently have organics recycling programs, according to the city. The overall waste diversion rate among condo and apartment buildings hovers at a dismal 17 per cent.
On Tuesday, the city's environment committee is expected to endorse a series of recommendations aimed at reversing that trend, including asking the province for money to help landlords absorb the cost of setting up waste diversion programs.
Some buildings are already leading by example.
The Hom, a 12-storey, 115-unit condo building on Champagne Avenue S., was built in 2013. Unlike buildings of a similar size, it has no garbage chute. Instead, half a dozen wheeled green bins share a ground-floor room with larger recycling bins and garbage dumpsters.
Green bins caught on
The building's superintendent, Jovan Chef, says it all began five years ago with a single green bin for leaf and yard waste. He soon discovered residents had been looking for a place to toss their organic waste.
'It's absolutely amazing how much is being diverted into these bins.' - Jovan Chef, building superintendent, The Hom
"One bin was full in a few days," Chef said. "Now we're filling six [green bins] a week, and it's absolutely amazing how much is being diverted into these bins."
Chef said the building has since been able to get rid of one large garbage bin, and the two that remain are rarely full on pickup day.
"We at times are actually only filling one of the two bins, that's how much is being diverted."
It's saving money, too. Getting rid of a single dumpster saves the condo corporation $1,500 a year in rental fees, plus more for "pull-out" fees.
There are other benefits: the refuse room smells better than it used to because most organic waste is now stored in green bins with latched lids instead of in open garbage containers. Chef hoses out and deodorizes the green bins each week.
"It's easy and I don't have any trouble with the smell, and I like the idea that we're not throwing this away in the landfill," said resident Ralph Phillips.
"Almost everybody bought into it," said Gary Davis, who's lived at The Hom since it opened and has helped educate his neighbours about the composting program. "When I think that seven out of 10 [multi-residential buildings in Ottawa] aren't doing this, well it's an absolute mystery to me."
Older buildings a challenge
Finding space for recycling and green bins in older buildings can be a challenge, but it can be done, according to Waste Watch Ottawa co-founder Duncan Bury.
"Rodents and smell are overstated issues, and there are innovative things you can do," Bury said, pointing to a condo in Toronto that converted its garbage chute to a kitchen waste chute.
"You then take your dry garbage and dry recyclables down to the garbage room, and it's made a huge difference because the participation in that building is very high," he said. "That is the kind of thing we need to be thinking of here."
Among the changes the city could ask the province for are updates to the building code requiring highrise buildings to have adequate recycling facilities.
If the committee approves the staff recommendations, city council will consider the matter July 10.