Apartment dwellers across Metro Vancouver are less than half as likely to recycle as other types of residents — but commercial waste haulers aren't welcoming the regional authority's attempt to change that.

Across the board, 62 per cent of the region's recycling and composting is diverted from landfills. But Metro Vancouver's estimates show that only 29 per cent of multi-family units do the same.

That's a potentially troubling statistic given that most of the new housing being built in the region is multi-family homes, according to a recent report.

"For some, it may be an issue of convenience," said Allen Langdon, managing director of Recycle B.C., the privately-funded, non-profit organization in charge of recycling across the province.

"If you're in a 30-storey apartment building, you may not want to take the recycling and take it all the way down into the parking garage."

Paul Henderson, Metro Vancouver's general manager of solid waste services, says the problem is persistent across North America.

He agrees that recycling rates are likely to rise along with convenience.

Blue boxes make it easy

For most municipalities, residents of single family homes have it the easiest — with municipalities traditionally providing blue box-type services right outside their doorstep. 

Also, Henderson said municipalities like Vancouver have been able to encourage those living in houses to recycle more by only picking up their garbage once every other week. 

"That encourages people to maximize the use of those recycling systems," Henderson said.

In apartments, however, the frequency of garbage and recycling pick-up service is determined by the strata or building owners and is usually more frequent, and the bins are available all the time. 

Recycle guy

Metro Vancouver says recycling rates have been consistently rising over the past few years, but apartment dwellers continue to stray behind in the numbers. (Multi-Material B.C.)

Some municipalities, like Vancouver, do have bylaws that require multi-family and commercial buildings to recycle and compost.

But Henderson says the rules differ from city to city, and the Metro Vancouver board doesn't have the authority to implement similar rules across the region.

Instead, Metro Vancouver staff are proposing to license commercial waste haulers to formalize standards across the region.

They want to help close the recycling gap between houses and apartments by ensuring all multi-family buildings across the region have access to some type of recycling receptacle, thereby increasing the convenience factor. 

Henderson says that, according to the regional authority's estimates, as much as 20 per cent of multi-family and commercial buildings don't have access to recycling containers. 

Licensing a solution?

Under proposed new rules presented to Metro Vancouver's Zero Waste Committee last Thursday, commercial waste collectors that pick up more than 10 tonnes of garbage or recycling per week would be responsible for providing the bins, if the buildings don't provide them themselves.

"From an enforcement perspective, it's much more efficient to have a requirement of the hauler rather than a building-by-building requirement," Henderson said. 

Henderson says licensing commercial waste haulers isn't a requirement in any other municipality in Canada, as far as he knows. But it is in some U.S. cities; he says Portland has had some success with the licensing model put in place there.

Metro Vancouver staff have recommended that the licence cost about $100 per year. The committee approved that the matter be put forward to the board on July 28. 

So far, the proposal hasn't landed well with the industry.

"With all the discussion about affordability in the region it seems rather tone deaf that Metro Vancouver would introduce a new tax on businesses and residents," said Matt Torgerson, president of the Waste Management Association of B.C.

"This is another attempt by Metro Vancouver to expand their monopoly."

Education initiative

There is at least one other solution being investigated in the Lower Mainland. 

This summer, Recycle B.C. will be working directly with 100 multi-family units on education programs to help people understand the importance of recycling. 

He says one of the challenges with apartment residents is it's more difficult to provide feedback than it is for single family homes, where it's easier to monitor if people are recycling.

Langdon said the organization will examine the results of that pilot project, and it hopes to be able to apply its findings more broadly across the region or even across the province.

"Because the last thing we want to see is good recyclable materials going in the garbage," he said.