Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Apartment Waste: Thoughts & Challenges

I can't, in good conscience, throw "everything I don't want anymore" into the garbage. . . There's a language of trash; what is it, this stuff I no longer need?:
break it down....
food scraps
q tips
fabric softener
odds & ends
plastic bags
old/broken furniture
and more and more and more
Unneeded. Superfluous. Extra. Objects we need to make disappear and vanish. A diversion of responsibility. An easy answer: the garbage chute. We don't really have much of a choice. I use re-using, recycling and composting as ways to reduce my garbage output. If I want to compost as an apartment dweller I face certain challenges. Most apartments (mine was built in the 70's) provide ways to dispose of trash, via garbage chutes conveniently located on each floor, but that's where it ends in terms of services/facilities provided for disposing the waste we produce by living. Even recycling is a challenge. There is no separate chute for recycling in my building (it would be fantastic if there was!). Residents who wish to recycle must bring down their recycling from their units in the elevator to the back of the building where recycling bins are located. Many residents opt to leave their recyclables in the garbage chute room, expecting maintenance staff to do the actual recycling. I'm sure many residents don't recycle at all. Perhaps expanded recycling services in apartment buildings would change this. Our building does not encourage residents to recycle or compost. Twice a year a "Waste Watch" newsletter is distributed in apartment resident's mailboxes. The most recent issue encourages apartment residents in the city to recycle and to talk to building staff about adding more bins if the current ones are consistently full. Our building doesn't have that problem, but maybe that points to a lack of recycling.
Composting presents similar challenges to apartment dwellers. I am grateful that our building has a 3 compartment wooden composter located outside of it. I have not seen many around other apartment buildings. Like for recycling, residents must bring down any food waste they wish to compost. I don't mind, as in my mind recycling and composting takes effort that is well worth it in the end. I just wish recycling and composting weren't initiatives individual residents take on themselves, but responsibilities citizens must meet. Improved recycling and composting programs for apartments would help facilitate this movement. Vast structural changes in how our city manages, thinks about, talks about and deals with its waste are required to get citizens (especially apartment dwellers) to actively participate in the management of their own waste by providing accessible and easy to use facilities necessary to make such participation prevalent. At least most residential neighborhoods consisting of houses in Toronto have the Green Bin Program for food and other organic waste. A Green Bin Pilot Program for Multi-Unit Residents is occurring, and I hope it results in the spread of such programs to all apartment buildings in the city. Apartments can be green too. It's up to both the city and building managements to provide the equipment and facilities, and up to the residents to take the initiative to divert as much waste as possible from the garbage by both recycling and composting through provided facilities. Both go hand in and and require each other for success. I keep a certain amount of faith that people do honestly care about this stuff, that it's not just a hassle. When you think about your waste it forces you to think about your lifestyle, and the unusable by-products of it, and we need to do that more.
Although I am vermicomposting, I am finding that I am producing more food waste than I can feasibly feed to and keep around for the worms (at least for now since I'm building the worms up to eating more food). Thus, I continue to use the composter outside my building. I don't see many other residents using it, in fact the only other person I saw using it was a homeless man picking out food scraps I had placed in it. I also wonder if any one uses the compost produced from the bin. Who tends to it? Is it the city's bin or the apartment's? These are questions I need to look into further.

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