That’s Garbage!

The most common complaint I hear among condo owners is always something to do with garbage.

Whether it’s the garbage chute, the garbage room, the rules and regulations surrounding garbage, or something in between – there’s much ado about human refuse.

Who cares, you ask?  Why are we talking about this, you say?

If you think I can’t write 1,800 interesting words about garbage, you haven’t been reading this blog long enough…


Ah yes, condominium living!

Tis grand, is it not?

Living under one roof with 500 other people has its pros, and cons.  And when it comes to the latter, I believe that our inherent human nature is responsible for most of the problems.

Our personal traits shine bright in everything that we do.  People can be selfish, lazy, sloppy, careless, entitled, thoughtless, inconsiderate, and just plain stupid.

Most of the issues we encounter in our condominiums are man-made, and/or the solution would be easy, if not for human resistance.

As I said at the onset, garbage presents one of the biggest problem sets in all Toronto condos, and thus I’d like to explore these problems, the root cause, the potential solution, and lastly – whether it’s the condo and property management that is to blame, or the residents of the building…

1) Locking The Chute

This one is a classic!

The reason that many buildings have a garbage chute that automatically locks at 10:00pm is because residents would, or have been, choosing to ignore the postings, “Please only use the chute from 8am to 10pm.”

As I said before – many problems are man-made…

Is it ridiculous to suggest that a condo resident can’t use the garbage chute past 10:00pm?  Yes, and no.

A condo owner should have the right to put garbage in its place, however, dropping bottles, as they clang and bang their way down the cute, creates a ton of noise.  Every city has by-laws for noise in public spaces, for concerts, etc., so why shouldn’t a condominium’s by-laws address noise as well?

So the garbage chute locks at 10:00pm, and the residents with garbage are asked to kindly go down to the garbage room, and drop the garbage into the bin by hand.

The problem with this, however, is that most people are inherently lazy.

The result, is that people leave their garbage on the floor of the garbage chute room.

In the end, property management spends time and energy posting more useless signs that read, “Please don’t leave garbage on the floor of the garbage chute room,” as if this was going to deter lazy people from being lazy.

My vote: so long as point #2 in this list is addressed, I see no problem with the garbage chute being locked at 10:00pm.

2) Locking The Garbage Room

This one has always bothered me.

I see both sides, however, and I can argue them both as well.

On the one hand, a resident should be entitled to drop whatever he or she wants into the garbage room, as this is the entire reason we live in a condominium – the convenience!

On the other hand, you don’t want residents to have access to the room, as they could try sorting through the bins and/or chute for something they dropped accidentally, which presents the condo with a liability.  You also don’t want them bringing bins full of construction debris to the room, when there are often by-laws about proper disposal of construction debris.

But then there are condos that take this too far, and for all the wrong reasons.

I once lived in a condo where the garbage room was locked, and I had to go to the concierge to ask him to unlock it.  He looked at me and said, “What type of garbage is it?”  To which I responded, “It’s garbage.  There’s only one kind.”

He asked to look into the garbage bad, and I said, “No,” and he refused to open the room for me.

Absolutely, positively ridiculous.

Another time, I brought a Christmas tree down and asked him to open the room.  He told me, “The deadline for disposal of Christmas trees was yesterday.”

I said, “Well I don’t need this tree to go to whatever special Christmas tree graveyard that the building had planned – I just need it to go in the garbage, with other household waste.”

He refused, saying that the tree had to be properly recycled.  I think he put his own personal bias into the matter, and didn’t want the tree going in a bin with kitchen garbage.

I told him, “You can either open the garbage room, or I’ll just go cut this thing into four pieces, and throw it down the chute.”

He was not pleased, and the Mexican stand-off persisted.  In the end, I cut it into four pieces, and pushed it down the chute.  The chute didn’t clog, and everything was fine.

So what was the goddam point of it all?

My vote: the garbage room should not be locked.  It can be monitored by concierge, and if somebody is tearing out an entire kitchen and trying to fit it into the garbage room, concierge should have no issue going down a floor, and saying, “Ummm….what the hell do you think you’re doing?”

3) “Don’t Put Large Items Down The Chute”

You just can’t stop a moron from being a moron.

And don’t try and outsmart me here.  I know I just said that I cut up a Christmas tree and put it down the chute, but it was a mini tree – about 3 1/2 feet, and I cut all the branches off…

But sometimes, you’ll have a genius decide to roll up a 6 x 4 carpet, and put it down the chute.

Where’s the logic in that?

Can’t that person just see the carpet standing on end, protruding six feet up into the chute from a pile of garbage below?

No doubt about it – this is a a problem.  But if somebody is jet-set on saving three minutes by stuffing the garbage chute with an over-sized item rather than trekking down the elevator to P1 and putting it in the garbage room, then you just can’t stop them.

My vote: this topic need not even be debated, however, I laugh when I see signs that say “Any shredded paper must be put in a clear plastic bag before being thrown down the chute.”  Who the heck thinks residents are going to do this?

4) Tri-Sorter

There have been lawsuits over this.

Green-friendly, environmentally-types who want an older condominium to “get with the times” and retrofit an old garbage chute with options for garbage, recycling, and compost.

The cost of doing so is NOT cheap.  You need three bins instead of one, you need an electric “draw-bridge,” if you will, that moves to-and-from depending on the type of garbage, and most expensive of which – you need a new chute mechanism for each floor, which is updated with an electronic panel that has three buttons.  This ain’t the same thing as the 1985 version!

The best story I can tell you on this subject is what I experienced at 205 Frederick Street in 2008…

There was a tri-sorter in the garbage chute room on every single floor, and people would sort their garbage, press each button, and drop garbage accordingly.

Then one day, as a member of the Board of Directors, I found out that there was ONE garbage bin beneath the chute, and all the items thrown down there – garbage, recycling, and compost – would end up in the SAME chute!

One member of the Board, who was a lawyer, absolutely freaked out – not just because the developer’s actions were fraudulent, but because he had spent time and energy sorting his garbage for two years!

The developer spent money out of his own pocket to remedy the situation, rather than drag it out through the courts…

Now the potential problem(s) with the tri-sorter is that if one bin is full, often it shuts down the entire machine.  When the machine is “out out service” (point #5), we get people leaving garbage on the floor of the garbage chute room (point #2, #3).

See how all these items are intertwined?

My vote: in 2013, a tri-sorter is a necessity in a new building, but if residents of a building from 1985 want to pay tens of thousands of dollars to retrofit the existing chute, they’d better be willing to foot the bill…

5) Out of Service

My personal favorite.

When I first moved in to 112 George Street, the garbage chute was out of service in excess of 80% of the time I went to throw out garbage.  I know this, of course, because I am obsessive-compulsive, and I decided to track the numbers for a week.  I checked the chute about forty times in seven days, all between 9am and 10pm (when the chute is supposed to be active), and about thirty times, the chute was “out of service.”

I wasn’t the only person who noticed this either.

It was common among elevator companions to make small-talk and grumble about the garbage chute.

In the end, this problem created another problem: residents would always bring their garbage “out” with them, while leaving for the day, and either throw the garbage out in the metal garbage can outside the front door of the building, or throw their garbage into the can in whichever parking garage level their car is in.

I was one of these people.  Sure, I could have taken my garbage to the garbage room, 80% of the time when the chute was out of service, but I didn’t want to.  I didn’t feel it was my responsibility to do so, since the building was neglecting to fix a lingering issue.  Instead, I would take the garbage out with me each morning, and place it in the garbage bin in P2.

Garbage can go in any garbage bin, right?  I was still throwing garbage into the right place, wasn’t I?

Soon enough, we started to see notices about the over-flowing garbage bins in P1 and P2, which I thought was tragically ironic, given that this problem was the result of another problem, which wasn’t being addressed.

I don’t know what the building finally did to rectify the issue (they probably flicked a switch…), but now the garbage chute is never out of service.

Everybody wins!

A classic reason for the garbage chute being out of service: the cleaning staff is given Sunday off.

This happens in a LOT of downtown Toronto condos, where the property manager gets cheap, and tries to save wages for a “slow day.”

The issue is that Saturday produces the most garbage of any day (partying, cooking in, cleaning, renovating), and by Saturday night, the bin is full, and needs to be replaced.  But if nobody is there to replace the bin on Saturday night, and nobody comes in on Sunday, then the chute says “Out of Service” until Monday morning.

The result?

Well, we’ve already covered this: people put garbage on the floor in the garbage chute room.

Some out of laziness, some out of frustration and/or protest.

My vote: there should always be somebody present in the condo who is qualified to remove the full garbage bin under the garbage chute and replace it with an empty one, otherwise we get MORE problems.

So those are my thoughts, feel free to agree or disagree.

But I think I’m right, FYI.

Anybody else’s opinions are just garbage…

P.S. – a reader emailed me on Wednesday and said “We have a winner!”  In perhaps the greatest moment of human stupidity, somebody jammed an ironing board down the garbage chute:



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  1. aaron says:

    The Marilyn Monroe condoes in Missisauga are the worst. The chutes dont work 70% of the time, and they have now just implemented a fee for anyone who leaves their bags in the garbage room….This seems unfair…

  2. eren says:

    Hello, I am Eren from Intersection Genesis. Our team became the champion of regionals in Turkey(Istanbul) and now we are preparing for FLL Nationals. Since we are getting ready for a bigger competition phase, we are looking forward to enhancing our project in every possible way and we thought maybe you could help us with that. Our project is about making garbage chute systems more rewarding for both people and environment. Basically, we are putting 4 pipes next to each other and classify them with the materials that they were meant to contain.Organic waste, plastic waste, metal waste and paper waste are being thrown down through these pipes completely seperately. These 4 pipes are made from stainless steel and there is a fan system to make the bad odor vanish while reducing the the chance of a possible bonfire. We also consider washing them with disinfectant water in order to get rid of the dirt, grime, dust etc We were planning on putting 3 more pipes where you can put glass, batteries and oil waste, but for some reasons we thought not including this kinds of wastes in our system would be a better idea(the glass being so fragile and not able to maintain the possibility getting recycled when the different types of it have mixed,
    the oil waste being so sticky,though, totally doable) And the model is easily convertible, i mean it’s place can be changed due to no available place in the building, in this case we move the chute system right out of the building and moving it to sidelines, either right or left. But the best and the most mention-worthy part of our project is to get some economical benefit from it, such as reducing the need of someone to take care of the trash by sorting or taking them out. The economical advantage that gets out of this system is our kind of huge compared to in action systems. In our chute system we do not any kind of mechanical technology that might boost the price up too much, which we currently are trying to avoid to make it stand a chance. The actual reason me writing this letter to you is to take some advice about some similar systems that you might as well have seen or designed or selled. Please do write us back.

  3. kelsey says:

    Your blog post is one of the only internet resources I have been able to find about this “tri-sorting” garbage chute phenomenon — a phenomenon I have only seen in Toronto.

    I’ve encountered these same “multi-sort” garbage chutes you’re describing, and for the life of me I can not figure out how to properly use them without screwing up the sorting. Do I wait for the green colour? Is the wait light for me or other users? Do I go right after clicking a button?! How do I know if the tri-sorter is ready to accept my garbage or recylcing!? How can it sort glass given that they shatter when I throw them down?! How does it prevent a drop of garbage and a drop of recycling from falling into the same chute if both are dropped simulatenously on different floors?! (In software we call this problem “race conditions”)

    From my experience I’m not suprised all of the garbage was getting redirected to a single rubbish bin. From my experience the tri-sorting system is expensive, unreliable and failure prone *by design* (due to race conditions). If I was in the City of Toronto recycling department I would audit the trash of every building using this system because I am nearly certain they are not properly collecting materials for recycling.

    I’m really interested in the potential problems these devices may be creating for waste management. If you have any access to any information about their effectiveness, anecdotal or documented, please let me know.

    Again thanks for the blog post!

    1. BR says:

      I too am concerned about the broken glass. I live on the second floor, and even then I still hear my glass recyclables shattering.

      In the mean time, here is a link to a popular science article that describes roughly how the single stream recycling centres sort through recyclables. It seems that it may be possible that it can handle broken glass.

    2. BR says:

      @kelsey Upon researching what goes on at recycling centres that do all the sorting of recyclable materials for you such as in Toronto, I discovered that glass gets intentionally broken into tiny pieces for recycling. Also, the glass gets broken in the trucks that compact recycling material. Thus, it does not matter if the glass shatters on the way down the chute, as long as it ends up in the recycling dumpster. Of course, if you have wine or beer bottles, those should be sold back to your local Beer store.

      In my condo it seems that garbage does indeed end up in different dumpsters. I live on the second floor, and I have noticed that if I do not actually HEAR the trisorter working/moving then it means the trisorter is on the NOSORT mode, and everything will end up in the garbage dumpster. If I HEAR the tri-sorter, then I know it’s on “sort” mode.

  4. Sam says:

    Speaking of garbage, have you shown at 55 Front yet?
    If ever there was an example why “occupancy” should be done away with, this is it.
    Two elevators for the building, one used by trades, call buttons that don’t work, and as I discovered, no way of getting on or off the 5th floor via the stairwells unless you pull the fire alarm… How can that be legal?

    Good luck showing anything on the 5th. You have to go to the 4th or 6th, go down the stairs to the 5th stairwell to get the key, back where you came from… Take the elevator to the 5th and then the reverse to return it.

    1. @ Sam

      That’s a clear fire code violation.

      Do you want to report them, or should I?

      Imagine being ‘trapped’ on your floor?

      It’s pathetic and shamelesse behaviour by a developer, although unfortunately, nothing new…

      1. Darren says:

        I honestly am not sure what the code is with regards to residential stairwells and access during normal, NON-emergency times. But I have on many occasions installed fire alarm pull stations on exit doors that are locked under normal circumstances but open when the pull station is activated. You are not trapped because in an emergency that door will release. This is perfectly acceptable, but again, I don’t know what the rules are to doors in residential stairwells.

        1. Sam says:

          Actually, that condo IS registered already, even though they are still working on it.
          I think the laws should change so that no one moves in, and nothing gets registered until the building is 100% complete.

          As far as these doors go.  There is a sign on the door that says “Emergency Exit, will release on alarm” or some such thing.
          There is also a red button that says “Exit” that if you push, is supposed to release the door (in non-emergency situations?). It did NOT work today. I don’t know about the exit at the other end of the building but the “A” one would not let you into the stairwell unless (I assume… I was tempted to try, but didn’t) you pulled the fire alarm.

          Neither exit to the 5th floor is accessible from the stairwells. David, if you have a hotline to whoever these things should be reported to, be my guest!

          If this is to code, I certainly wouldn’t want to live on that floor. If you can’t be bothered waiting for the elevator, you’re stuck on that floor.

  5. JC says:

    After seeing some of the issues and ensuing human behavior, or lack of same, that Property Managers deal with, it’s no wonder most of them are among the crankiest people I’ve met.

    At several buildings I know of people used to throw garbage out of their windows when the trash chute was inoperative. 1 guess as to why. I can’t remember how much it cost the condo corporation each time to clear the chute at a building one of my clients owned in, but I remember being a little taken aback that it was that much. $1,000 per call or something like that.

    And people wonder why their condo fees are so high.

  6. IanC says:

    Back in August, everyone in our building got an e-mail from the property manager – reminding us not to put large objects down the garbage chute… And attaching a picture of a full size ironing board (only two legs slightly damaged) that was dumped down the chute !