High-rise doesn’t have to mean high waste.
WHEN Melbourne City Councillor Cathy Oke moved into her CBD apartment, she found there was no recycling collection at all.
“Residential recycling rates in the city are terrible,” she says. “At the last election almost every councillor identified it as an issue that needed to be addressed.”
In the City of Melbourne, the waste diversion rate – the percentage of recycling and green organics collected, as a proportion of total waste – is second worst among Victoria’s municipalities.
Cr Oke puts it down to high-rise dwellings and awkward infrastructure, together with high tenancy turnover rates and language barriers among some residents.
But it’s not just apartments in the city that don’t get it right. In most multi-dwelling blocks, recycling is less convenient than in stand-alone dwellings.
While new apartment buildings are constructed with separate chutes for landfill and recycling, the set-up is more complex in older buildings. Cleaning is expensive, and without dedicated areas and systems, bins become a jumble of rubbish and recyclables.
Even where space and bins are available, well-meaning residents often gather and deposit recyclables in plastic bags, which cannot be recycled by sorting centres. Items must be put loose into the bin, not bundled in plastic bags.
In Cr Oke’s building, recycling bins have been moved off each floor and she uses a special container, supplied by the council, to sort and transport her recyclables.
“It’s like a funky yellow shopping basket that’s easily tip-able. It fits neatly in my small kitchen,” she says. “If you move the recycle bins to reduce contamination, you have to make it easy to go to those locations.”
Christine Byrne, founder of the Green Strata website, suggests residents engage their owners corporation, property manager or building caretaker on the subject.
“To improve recycling rates you’ve got to think about human nature. Don’t fight it. See if you’ve got space somewhere in your building, reorganise it and make it easier for people,” she says.
The best method will vary from building to building. One apartment block, featured on Green Strata, chose to put recycling bins near the lifts on every level. Cleaners empty them every two days.
“Their recycling rate has gone up by making it convenient. It’s where their garbage chute is, so they don’t have to think about it,” Ms Byrne says.
Another key is effective signage. Colour coding and clear instructions can help focus the most absent-minded residents, so ask your local council for education material.
You can also make room for more exotic kinds of re-use. “If you’ve got facilities for recycling, put another container there for e-waste, corks, batteries, printer cartridges and fluorescent globes,” she says. “Accumulate it and then get a cleaner, caretaker or a willing owner to take it to the appropriate disposal place.”
Some buildings have even begun swapping pre-loved goods. “They’ve created treasure rooms where people can put useable household stuff they no longer want. It’s available for other residents in the building to take,” she says.
Composting is always tricky in apartments, but Ms Byrne suggests putting a Bokashi Bucket or a worm farm (in a shady spot) on your balcony. Owners corporations could buy the equipment in bulk and arrange a workshop to get people started. Alternatively, enthusiastic residents can establish a communal system on shared garden space.