Managing Residue in Multi-res Buildings: What’s the Best Solution?

For most programs, collecting quality recyclables from multi-residential (MR) buildings is still a big hill to climb, despite efforts to increase convenience and capacity and communicate effectively. The question remains: is it best to use technology to clean up materials at the MRF or can we change behaviour with P&E and enforcement?

mrf-residue-sidebarWith more than 25% of its residents in MR buildings, the Region of Peel has focused on developed a strong MR recycling program and achieved important gains through the years. However, a 2015 inbound MRF audit revealed that high levels of contamination needed to be addressed.

Audits of several buildings revealed two major sources of contamination:

  • Blue box materials tied inside plastic bags that couldn’t be processed and
  • Unsolicited materials – such as garbage & construction materials

Pilot testing a two-part solution: measured P&E
With that, the Region developed a campaign to change MR behaviour, testing P&E materials that show exactly what to recycle, and how, in a 12-building pilot.

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 grocery bags. Lobby displays were set up in the buildings with staff available to speak with residents.

The Region measured campaign performance in four audits, finding that contamination dropped by 13% – down to 32% from 45%, with a 50% reduction in the number of bagged and tied recyclables.

Taking a successful pilot to full-scale roll-out
With these results, Peel applied for CIF support to expand to all 720 MR buildings, using the now tested campaign materials.

Initiated in January 2016, under CIF Project 895, the Peel team has been distributing in-unit bags and instructional materials to all MR residents. Seizing the opportunity to learn from this study, Peel staff further refined the project by setting up two control groups.

In addition to the bags and the instruction inserts and posters, 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 will not receive in the in-person reminders and follow-up.

Material audits will be done before and after the materials are distributed and the lobby displays are completed.  Qualitative and quantitative monitoring such as resident surveys and visual observations is also scheduled.  All results will be analyzed to determine the effectiveness of the P&E material, and what’s more the extent to which person-to-person resident engagement affects behavior change.

Adaptable P&E, with data to come
This program will yield detailed data to address key questions and form the basis of a long term strategy to strengthen MR recycling. The suite of P&E materials will be made available to all municipalities province wide so that they can be adapted for use anywhere. Learnings from this and other similar initiatives are expected to provide answers to the question of how best to manage MR contamination and residue problems.

Interested in this initiative & want to learn more?
Contact Jessica Landry. We will be monitoring this project closely through a CIF Multi Res Working Group dedicated to setting strategies to better manage cost and performance. And…don’t miss the June 14 ORW … we will have several panelists joining to discuss the rising residue rates issues.