Managing Residue in Multi-residential Buildings: Lessons learned from Peel Region

In a recent project, Peel Region focused a comprehensive P&E campaign on the problem of incorrect set outs in multi-residential (MR) buildings, yielding valuable learnings for programs across the province.

Tied off bags: Can we get residents to stop setting out recyclables in them?

Increasingly MRFs struggle to deal with materials entering facilities in tied off grocery bags and black garbage bags. While the bags may contain valuable recyclables, operators find it time consuming, inefficient and often dangerous to open them. If there is a large influx of tied off material, the sorting lines may be slowed or stopped to allow the time needed to break open bags, which lowers processing efficiency. For the staff opening the bags, there is a health and safety concern as bags may contain broken glass or needles.

Tied bags from MR

Signaling Change: Using P&E to instill new habits

To break the habit of placing recyclables in plastic bags and tying their tops, the Region provided in-unit reusable bags to store and transport recyclables to collection containers, and asked residents to use them instead of plastic bags.  In addition, doorknockers were placed on the door to explain how and why to use the bags, and instruction inserts and magnets were placed inside the bags.

Peel staff expanded their P&E study to determine whether or not in person interventions had an impact on changing residents recycling practices.  Staff set up lobby displays in some buildings to allow for direct person-to-person engagement with the residents to emphasize messaging on the P&E materials distributed.  The other buildings did not receive the in-person reminders and follow-ups.

Signage in an MR elevator (Photo Source: Region of Peel)

Bright spots from the Peel project

  • The arrival of Peel’s “Recycle Right” P&E materials reduced the use of grocery or garbage bags as a means of carrying recyclables to the carts/bins. In surveys, almost all who responded to the question reported a shift in their behaviour to using the Recycle Right reusable bag.
  • Those surveyed demonstrated a good recall of receiving the P&E materials. Recall of the specific materials was quite high with the reusable bag and the magnet remembered most often, with the reminder card coming in third.

Growing the bright spots in your community

  • P&E materials succeeded in capturing MR residents’ attention. In Peel they responded positively to the call to action by changing their improper set out practices and adopting the desired behaviour. Investing in on-going campaigns that modify residents behaviours one step at a time, works.

More study needed to evaluate the impact of in person interventions

There are no indications that the presence of the lobby display, which were in place for three hours during one day between the pre and post surveys, impacted the residents recycling set out habits.

A more robust study is needed to draw more definitive conclusions about the cost-benefit of providing intervention through a staffed lobby display. While Peel Region was not able to gather as much evidence as they hoped for on the affect of having people interact with the residents in person, staff did see encouraging results which suggest that further study of this type of effort merits investigation.  For example, the buildings that had people in the lobby to talk with residents, found that there were far fewer incidents of tied off plastic bags in the recycling, after the lobby visit.


Peel Region’s campaign achieved a 21% reduction, by weight, in the amount of materials received in grocery/shopping bags and black garbage bags. In addition to this, there was a 6% reduction in garbage and overall contamination by non-recyclable materials. The overall contamination rate decreased from 32% to slightly below 30%.

P&E works to change behaviour. Consistent, ongoing campaigns are recommended to continue to draw down contamination rates and lower the number of tied off plastic bags used to set out recyclables.

For more information

Contact Project Lead Peter Kalogerakos via email at for insights on how design your study and to build on the learnings from Peel.