Health centre cuts almost all garbage
Strict recycling program a model for all businesses
By Kris Scheuer
(Originally written March 15/07 for Town Crier.)
The amount of garbage being thrown out at the South Riverdale Community Health Centre has plummeted from 50 bags a week to five.
This considerable shift did not happen on its own, but at the same time is a feat that any other business could achieve with some planning, says the centre’s health promoter, Paul Young. SRCHC, at 955 Queen St. East, has a history of joining local fights to shut down polluting industries. One such fight involved the old city incinerator at 400 Commissioner St. Young decided to develop a strategy to reduce garbage and increase recycling at the centre so its policies would be more in keeping with its philosophy.
“We had recycling, but it was very ad hoc and uncoordinated,” Young said.
One of the problems Young identified was the small garbage cans at staff desks, each of which was lined with a bag. Each night the bags would be removed and replaced with new liners even if the bins contained just a coffee cup or a single apple core.
Staff found it more convenient to throw things in the garbage bin by the desk rather than find a recycling bin.
He did an audit of the centre’s garbage by looking inside two bags to see what was being thrown out. He took pictures and did a PowerPoint presentation to help staff see where the problems were.
His findings matched the findings in the Town Crier sampling of residential garbage in December, 2006.
“I would agree with your numbers,” Young said. He picked two garbage bags from the centre to audit and found 75 percent could have been diverted from landfill.
Five percent of the garbage consisted of non-recyclable bags, so there were 22 small bags contained within the two large garbage bags. Forty percent was paper product, 30 percent was organics and only 25 percent was residual garbage. And since that spring 2006 audit, the list of items that can be recycled has grown.
“We were stunned,” he says, referring to how much was being thrown out. “Everybody wanted to (improve) but it was hard to imagine how it would unfold.”
Young decided to change the system.
“Management supported me and paid me a day a week over six weeks to put a system in place,” he says.
While most businesses over a certain size do not qualify for city garbage pick-up and green and blue bin programs, South Riverdale Community Health Centre does.
For the building’s 50 staff, Young placed large green and blue bins and a small container for trash on each of the centre’s four floors. He handed out desk size green bins for staff.
About 300 clients use the centre for health services. Another 240 use the centre for meetings and events. Young put blue, green and garbage bins in public areas, with pictures of what can be discarded in each.
To educate staff, Young held meetings and had quizzes with prizes for people who knew where the recycling bins were located. He put up flyers letting people know what goes in the trash, the blue bin or the green bin.
For those looking to implement a better system in the workplace, Young advises, “Give someone the task for coming up with a system and work with other staff to tap into the collective.”
You’ll find there are a lot of experts on staff with good ideas, he says.
“And support from management is key.”