Perhaps you’ve found yourself living in a building that doesn’t offer recycling service. You could navigate the labyrinth of bureaucracy all day long and not find any reliable answers. Are buildings required to offer it? Does it cost money? How do you get a blue box? Why did every person I spoke to give me a different answer? Do we live in a Kafka novel? It turns out, we do not.
But I didn’t know that for sure, until I found Bob.
A few years ago I moved into an apartment above a comic book store with a vegan, a rat, and three rabbits. Among several surprises upon moving in, perhaps the most troubling was that the building did not have recycling bins. There was a dumpster for landfill and a green bin for compost, but no blue box for recyclables. A few phone calls to 311 yielded nothing, and rather than throw recyclables in the garbage, I found myself taking them across the city on my two-bus commute so that I could recycle them at work.
This was not ideal.
I’d heard a lot of things about if residential buildings were required to offer recycling and whether or not it cost anything — but only rumours. The uncertainty and the bus rides were getting to me, and I considered the current state of affairs unacceptable.
On Thursday, September 6, 2018, I found myself with a day off, and I decided to dedicate my effort and the day to solving this problem.
I suspected that if pressed, the landlords would add the cost of the service to our rent, or simply refuse to apply for the service. I had a vague plan to gather the relevant information and write a letter that would demonstrate to the building management that it was in their financial interest to acquire the service, and failing that I would report them to the relevant agency. As far as I knew, the best I could hope for was to get some by-law officer to come by and tell the owners or building managers that they would be fined if they didn’t offer recycling service. What I was hoping for was to find out 1) the legal responsibilities of the landlords 2) the penalties for violating those responsibilities 3) organization with the authority to enforce these regulations and 4) the cost of securing the services in question, and ultimately, 5) how to get access to recycling service at my building. And today was the day I was going to do it.
Little did I know that, as with that time when I was trying to see that old clock in England, my lack of understanding of the situation was so great that i wasn’t even asking the right questions. In a way, my questions didn’t even really make sense. Looking back, I didn’t even have the right terminology to talk to these people. “Am I part of the strata?” I don’t even know what that means.
Nevertheless, in a little more than an hour (most of which I’d be on hold), I would have my answers, and a newfound hope for the world.
The following is a paraphrased transcription of the phone gauntlet that followed.
10:22am, Ira from the City:
“All buildings should have recycling. The city doesn’t have any by-laws for it, but if a building is caught with ‘unacceptable items’ in their landfill, they’re liable for fines”
“Who can I report to?”
“We can put in a report for that.”
He looks up my address, “You do have recycling service by Waste Management. You’re on the collection schedule. Let me give you their number.”
10:32am, Juan with Waste Management:
“Did you set up an account? Someone would have to set up an acc–” (at this point the call was dropped.)
10:44am, Esmerlda from Waste Management:
“That’s going to be on (inaudible); let me get you there…”
Art from Waste Management:
“So you need to set up recycling service?”
“I don’t know.”
“In Vancouver it’s not a requirement to offer recycling. It’s an open market here, so it’s a chargeable service.”
“City Hall told me the building can be fined if recyclables are found in the waste.”
“All they have is the trash service, but they haven’t set up the account”
“How much would that cost?”
“It depends on several factors. They’d have to meet with a local agent. Best left to the owners.”
“Could you ballpark the costs? I could include it in a letter I could send them.”
“Also, all businesses require to book a site survey.”
“Will the site survey cost more money?”
“I don’t really know.”
11:11am, Selbra with the City
“I wanted to know who is in charge of fines and inspections for recyclables in landfill”
“The City would not be fining, because we’re not in charge of recycling in Vancouver — Recycle BC is. Recycle BC could fine the company that dropped the load. Then the company could fine the building they picked up from. And some buildings may hire a company to go through everything to separate the recycling. The city doesn’t have jurisdiction over that. But if recyclables were found in the green bin, the City could fine for that, because it’s our jurisdiction.”
11:33am, Recycle BC:
“Your address is coming up as a Waste Management pickup area. Why are you under the impression they don’t service you?”
“We don’t have a blue box. Waste Management told me the account has not been set up.”
“It is strange they’re not servicing your building; you’re coming up on the recycling schedule so you should have recycling. You should have a bin. Please hold…”
“Thanks for holding. My colleague Bob actually looks after Vancouver. I’ll just transfer you to Bob now.”
“Hi, is this Nick? Hi Nick, I overheard some of the conversation. Sounds like you’re in a multi-family building in Vancouver and there’s no service. You don’t have any recycling, is that correct?”
“How many units in the building?”
“Okay, hang on let me see if I can figure it out. Ya, it’s pretty common for carts to go missing. I don’t know if here’s a company that manages the property, but sometimes carts go missing and there’s not anyone on site paying attention to that. I see your building on my list 3622, but 3618 is also associated with the building and that’s probably why when you contacted Wate Management they couldn’t find an account for the building — because the building has two addresses, and the primary one that the account is under is 3618.”
“So don’t worry abouy that, I will take care of this. What I’m going to do is I’m going to contact Waste Management and basically let them know that – there’s no recycling carts at the site?”
“You’ve got nothing?”
“So I’ll have them deliver carts. I’ll basically have them revise the service. It’s possible they put the account on hold, because the driver goes and there’s nothing there a few times, and says ‘hey boss, let’s take this one off the list’ so that’s kind of what happens. But they don’t actually close the account because they can’t do that without my permission, so… is there a property management company that’s…”
“That’s a great question. My roommate has those numbers, I don’t have them at the moment.”
“The way recycling works in the whole province now is that there are not any fees. Residents, home owners, buildings and property managers. Recycling is all funded by companies that produce packaging and paper. So I don’t need anyone from the property management company to go ahead with this. I don’t need their approval.”
“Oh, Wow.” (It may be apparent that I am nearly speechless with excitement and appreciation. Perhaps never before could I recall receiving such an wealth of relevant information from someone on the other end of a telephone).
“But — we don’t need to find them, but what I’m going to suggest… and I think, based on where the location is and the fact that the carts have previously been – probably – stolen. It’s pretty common for people to borrow them for cans and bottles to take to a depot and when they get to that depot they just abandon the bins. But if you or your friend or you contact the property manager – or if you don’t mind going to home depot and buying a few feet of chain and a padlock? You can just lock the carts to themselves if there’s not a good fence. I’m looking at the back of your place on streetview – it doesn’t look like there’s a good fence or anything to lock it to…
“It’s kind of too bad and common that this happens and a lot of people just really don’t know what to do about it… So let me take care of this, I’m going to give you my direct line and if you have any more questions or your roommate has questions or the bins don’t show up in the next week or so then give me a call back and I’ll follow up with Waste Management. My name is Bob.”
The blue bin was there in less than five days.
Thank you, Bob.