Calgary’s condos and townhouses are going blue. In 2012, multi-family residences sent about 78,000 tonnes of garbage to landfills with about 22 percent of that garbage — around 17,000 tonnes — being recyclable material.

The city’s initiatives

After over a year of engaging stakeholders — from residents to condo development companies —  the city has come up with a solution to boost recycling efforts and reach it’s goal of diverting 80 percent of its waste from landfills by 2020, says Philippa Wagner, Waste Diversion Specialist with the City of Calgary.

“We really tried to reach all the effected people and find out what their thoughts were,” she says. “Recycling is definitely something that residents want.”
Ultimately, the city has decided to go with the free market approach. The strategy will include both a bylaw mandating multi-family housing to institute onsite recycling by 2016, and education and resources to set up recycling programs and find contractors.

“The challenge in smaller, older buildings — which outnumber the newer, larger buildings — is they simply don’t have the space available,”

Wagner estimates there are about 163,000 multi-family units in the city ranging from condos to townhouses.

“It’s about a third of our dwellings — that’s a pretty significant portion,” she says. “If you look at the waste they send to landfills it’s about 13 percent of Calgary’s overall waste.”

Addressing diversity among buildings

Greening the city’s condos and townhouses is going to require some innovation. “You can’t have a one size fits all model for the multi-family dwellings, you’ve got such a diversity of buildings from twenty-story high-rises to townhouse complexes,” says Wagner. “They all have to be serviced very differently and we definitely thought the private sector responds well and is able to develop those creative solutions.”

At the moment, about 35 percent of Calgary’s multi-family buildings run some sort of recycling program. For those without, many residents separate their waste and run it over to a nearby recycling depot on their own accord. Though not entirely taxing, the tedium is enough to make some residents lump their garbage and recycling together.

“The challenge in smaller, older buildings — which outnumber the newer, larger buildings — is they simply don’t have the space available,” says Bill Partridge, President and Chief Staff Officer of the Building Owners and Managers Association’s Calgary chapter. “It’s going to require a collaborative effort for the folks who run the properties, the service providers, and the condo boards — they’re going to have to work and find a solution.”

Bring the conversation home

Whether the solution is putting in new infrastructure or tweaking old systems, the options are out there. All in, Calgary is home to about 30 private sector recycling companies.

“Some will go above and beyond the blue cart materials including things like electronic collection,” adds Wagner. “Building owners can definitely get a higher level of services if that’s what the residents want.”

The free market approach will also give residents a chance to participate in the discussion surrounding what to do with the waste they create. Essentially, it brings the sustainability conversation home. For building owners, Wagner recommends starting the conversation sooner rather than later.  

“We don’t want people to wait until the last minute until we’re about to enforce the bylaw,” she says, adding that although the plan is to enact the bylaw in the fall, there will be a ramp-up period to allow building owners to find the solution that fits best.

“I think it’s something they can start now,” says Wagner. “There’s a high level of demand for it and I think residents will be very happy to get on board and
start recycling.”

Andrew Seale