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And now an important word from your blue bin

August 26, 2014

“Please don’t use your head”?

A binner’s business — if you can call it that — is with the recycling blue bins and dumpsters outside of apartment buildings,

What goes on inside the buildings is normally none of our business but word does leak out. Binners naturally get to chatting with building managers and tenants. Pleasantries are exchanged. Grievances are aired.

Tenants mostly complain about their rent and the upkeep of their suites. Building managers complain about tenants, tradespeople, and garbage.

Garbage problems can be a particular sore point because they can mean a visible mess which reflects poorly on the building.

When building managers indulge in trash talk


“NO GARBAGE”! Gahhh! Seems like a sign of stress to me.

Building managers’ garbage complaints fall into several categories:

  • Illegally dumping of garbage by non-tenants.
  • The mess left by binners, dumpster divers, crows, seagulls and raccoons.
  • The city’s blue bin recycling system.

However, most of a building manager’s concerns about garbage and recycling involve their own tenants .

Tenants across Fairview (if not the world) perennially want to leave their over-sized trash — old furniture and mattresses — out by their building’s dumpsters with little or no care to how the building’s management deal with said trash. Tell tenants not to leave mattresses behind their building and they will contrive to leave their old mattress between two buildings — drives building managers nuts.

The mark of a good building manager is communication?


“Milk cartons now accepted”. A good thing to know.

Apartment building managers in Fairview often have issues with how their tenants are using — or misusing — their building’s recycling blue bins.

In addition to any other communications they may have with their tenants behind closed doors, the managers sometimes broadcast their concerns, cautions and advice about using the blue bins in the form of text messages written on the bins themselves.

pbb-break-down boxes

Physically these messages may be printed or hand-written on sheets of paper and taped to the bin or they may just be handwritten in black marker right on the plastic of the bin — usually on the lid for maximum visibility.


This manager thinks tenants know better and are purposely recycling the wrong way.

The tone of the messages vary, from instructive: “All cardboard boxes must be flattened” to commanding: “No plastics”. They can be abrupt or verbose. The two most common “instructive” words are “please” and “no” but not in that order.

The most common purposes of the messages is to correct misuse and instruct tenants what goes where. Far and away the biggest problem the messages try to address is with cardboard boxes.

The over-sized problem of cardboard boxes


Flattened and cut-up but the trucks may still not collect it because the lid won’t close.

Corrugated cardboard is the bane of the recycling blue bin system.

The cardboard often comes in the form of boxes which are folded and glued and stapled together and often covered in packing tape. The boxes are generally too large to fit in the Mixed Paper bin as is.

Anyway, the rules say they’re supposed to be “broken down” and flattened first.


THE LIDS MUST CLOSE! Both a notice from the city and the manager.

Problem number one: The tenants should flatten the boxes they throw out but they often don’t. It’s not always something you can do with your bare hands (a person could break a nail trying) and not many tenant carry a box-cutter knife. That makes it the building manager’s job, as if they don’t have enough to do already.

Problem number two: The boxes get flattened but guess what? The still don’t fit in the blue bin. Oh? they need to be cut up into pieces also?

Who dreamed up a system that requires everyone in Vancouver to be carrying a razor-sharp knife every time they take out their recycling?

Kafkaesque, catch-22, take your pick


“Boxes left beside the bin do not get picked up”. A building just can’t win.

Last week I spoke to a building owner who was throwing armfuls of flattened and cut up cardboard from his over-full Mixed Paper blue bin into his dumpster.

He knew full well that recyclables like cardboard were not allowed in the dumpster but he asked me rhetorically what choice did he have?

No choice actually. He couldn’t fit all the cardboard in the blue bin that the city provided. He wasn’t supposed to leave it beside the bin and it was illegal to put it in the dumpster.

We both knew he could get away with putting the cardboard in the dumpster but that the collection trucks probably wouldn’t collect his building’s Mixed Paper bin if it was so full that the lid didn’t fully close.

Getting rid of the mess was his top priority.

One cardboard solution that was all wet

I’m reminded of one driver who used to work for the waste hauling company that has the city contract to collect the recycling blue bins.

When this driver collected the bin sets in the Kitsilano or Fairview neighborhoods he always made sure to leave the lids of the mixed paper bins open — for the rain he said.

He wanted the paper and cardboard to get soaked. It got nice and soft and compacted so much better in his truck.

He didn’t care about the extra weight of the water. The trucks could handle that and anyway the process of compacting wrung a lot of the water out.

I still think there should be one Mixed Paper dumpster per block, with a slot rather a hinged lid.

Fairview’s mysterious “no boxes” tagger


“NO BOXES” — the ubiquitous statement on all but a few Fairview paper bins.

Every recycling blue bin set in the Fairview neighbourhood consists of at least three bins: Containers, Mixed Paper and Newsprint. Larger multi-unit building will have more of some bins as needed.

And one Mixed Paper bin in every one of these bin sets in Fairview — with the exception of about two blocks-worth — is marked with the statement “No Boxes” handwritten on the lid — in larger bin sets with say, three Mixed Paper bins, only one bin is so marked.

It's everywhere, even on bins safely behind lock and key.

It’s everywhere, even on bins safely behind lock and key.

The statement is always in the same handwriting, though it looks like the writer went through a few different black chisel-tip markers. And the statement is on bins inside locked enclosures.

The buildings have keys to their locked garbage enclosures and so do the drivers working for the private waste hauling company contracted to collect the recycling blue bins every week.

All this leads me to think that a driver of one of the collection trucks was responsible but I have no idea why.

This building has tried to correct the offending statement by amending it.

This building has tried to correct the offending statement by amending it.

Tenants are supposed to put their corrugated cardboard boxes in the Mixed Paper bin, so long as the boxes are flattened and cut to size.

“No unflattened boxes”  would make sense but as it is, the statement is misleading and wrong.


That’s okay. Fairview tenants don’t read that stuff on the lids anyway.

So in this one way at least it may be a good thing that many tenants, at least in Fairview,continue to throw away whatever they want wherever they think it should go.

They won’t be so easily led to comply with the rules of the system. When it comes to all the markings, notes, pleas and admonitions, they just seem to ignore all that garbage. Click the images to enlarge them.


Good thing it’s written. Looks like keys, wisdom teeth and sardine cans to me.

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