Drive-Thru Centers Make Recycling, Reusing Convenient

York Region Partners with Charity Groups to Make One-Stop Shops

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Posted: Wednesday, September 7, 2011 11:14 am

The same drive-thru service concept that has forever changed banking, eating and other necessities of modern life has found a new application that might just change the way people reuse and recycle unneeded materials. A Canadian municipal region has partnered with Goodwill and Habitat for Humanity to bring drive-thru service to its solid waste management plan.

The Region of York, which includes Toronto in Ontario, has built two Community Environmental Centres (CEC) with more planned. CECs are waste management facilities that provide residents with convenient locations to drop off a variety of materials. While York's CECs aren't the first of their kind, region officials say they plan to establish a network of the centers to provide better service and greater convenience for residents to dispose of unwanted, yet reusable or recyclable items that are not managed at the curb.

Luis Carvalho is project manager for the Regional Municipality of York, which comprises nine municipalities. At the American Public Works Association's recent sustainability conference in Portland, Ore., he said the region is gaining about 40,000 people per year. That many residents could potentially send a lot of household waste to the landfill, which is why the region started looking at waste diversion strategies. Carvalho said the target for diversion of waste from regional landfills is 65 percent. Existing curbside recycling programs are effective, but many residents exceed their curbside pickup limits. So, local officials identified numerous options, such as expanding the Green Bin program to divert biodegradable waste, and expanding the Blue Box program for separated household waste. The CECs will help divert what's left over, including those items that are still usable by the two charity groups.

By surveying the public, the region determined that a network of CECs would provide an effective opportunity for residents to divert waste materials from disposal. In 2009 they opened their first CEC in the Richmond Hill area. The CECs are expected to divert 3,000 tons of waste from disposal each year.

Carvalho explained that CECs cater to residential users, not businesses. They are intended to augment, not replace curbside collection programs and increase re-use and recycling. To be embraced by the public, they need to be easily accessible, convenient, safe and attractive in appearance. Getting to the point that the first car motored through the CEC gates took several years and planning that considered siting, layout, design strategies, and the features the CEC would include.

Studies conducted during the planning stages showed that no one should drive more than 20 minutes to reach a CEC. That meant locating the centers in dense population areas near major roadways that could still be reached by minor roadways. CECs require a minimum of 8 acres of developable land that are owned, preferably, by the region or a local municipality.

Design principles included making sure the traffic flow would allow users to enter the site, immediately identify where they wish to go and be able to get there quickly. Staff is on-site to help residents navigate through the facility and find the right drop-off area for their materials.

Guiding the overall facility layout are four principles Carvalho referred to as the "4 Rs:" reduce, reuse, recycle, and recover. Reducing includes promoting and educating users about recycling; re-using means making goods available to organizations such as Goodwill and Habitat for Humanity; and recycling means sorting through appliances, electronics, household items, bulky recyclables and fill and rubble materials. Carvalho said other elements that come in to play in facility layout and design include environmental protection, aesthetics, stormwater management, operations, approvals and accessibility.

Finding partnerships is also important. Goodwill Industries International and Habitat for Humanity York Region operate at the CEC locations accepting donations of new and gently used goods, including clothing, house wares, books, textiles, electronics and small appliances, as well as renovation and household materials like lumber, cabinetry, windows, doors, hardware and plumbing and lighting fixtures. The reusable goods collected at the CEC's through Goodwill and Habitat for Humanity are distributed for re-sale at the charities' retail locations within the area.

The Richmond Hill facility was laid out into four zones. Zone 1 focuses on education and promotion of waste reduction. Through an attractive entrance, Carvalho said, visitors can find information about waste management and sustainable practices. Zone 2 is operated by Goodwill and Habitat for Humanity. Zone 3 is where the public can drop off goods not suitable for reuse but that can be recycled.

Zone 3 is a busy place, to be sure, but there is still a job to be done in Zone 4. That's where residual waste, meaning anything that can't be otherwise reused or recycled, is discarded by being hauled to the land fill. Residents can drop off most of their materials for reuse and recycling free of charge. There is, however, removal charge of $20 per unit for refrigerated appliances containing CFCs. Also, any garbage (or non-reusable, non-recyclable material) has a disposal fee. The CECs are generally designed so residents can unload all reusable and recyclable goods first, then if they have any garbage for waste disposal beyond that, they pay a disposal fee.

The name Community Environmental Centres obviously connotes something broader than simply making sure one's plastic containers aren't mingled in with glass. CECs are about more than recycling, they say. The idea behind CECs is to incorporate all the "Rs" and work toward a more sustainable way of living. York Region defines sustainability as a combination of three things: a sustainable natural environment, economic vitality and healthy communities. They further focus the definition of sustainability for the CEC network to include cost, customer satisfaction and diversion.

Carvalho explained how sustainability is practiced and recognized at the Richmond Hill CEC and at the region's newer operation located in the city of Vaughan. They have received LEED gold certification for sustainable design and construction practices. They earned the Recycling Council of Ontario's gold award for a unique program in environmental sustainability and waste reduction initiatives. Further, the program was awarded the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Sustainable Communities award for best sustainable practices in the waste category. The main proof is in the pudding, which in this case means how many residents are using the center to divert waste. Carvalho said customer satisfaction is high and customer use is increasing, in spite of the fact they've done very little advertising to date.

Moving forward, a third CEC is being built at the Georgina Transfer station. "It is a modest facility but there are a lot of people who go there," Carvalho said. The Region hopes to add several more CECs as various municipalities request projects, which he said is a "catalyst" for moving projects forward.

All the sites will work together, strengthening the "one-stop shopping concept," allowing people to use the CECs for diverting a wide variety of materials rather than simply disposing of those things in landfills. Soon, they plan to add yard waste to the list of what they will accept.

Carvalho said they want people to know how to navigate each CEC based on similar layout aided by design details like blue canopies and signage. Like walking into a big box home improvement store and already knowing where the lumber is kept, at CECs, people will always know where to drop off that empty cardboard refrigerator box for recycling or those gently used children's school outfits for reuse in years to come.

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