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Richmond Hill condo committee finds recycling solutions above and beyond the norm
Aug. 9, 2021

It takes assiduity and adamancy for Sharon Panza and her environmental committee to do what they do.

Over the past three years, the volunteer group at 100 Observatory Lane has been pushing residential waste recycling programs to the extreme.

In July 2018, a Diabetes Canada donation bin for soft goods and a bin for breakables were placed in the condo building, immediately after the committee was approved by management.

"To date, more than 28,000 pounds of household items have been collected and donated," said Panza, chair of the committee.

In August 2018, a battery bin was introduced and has so far accumulated an impressive 400 pounds of batteries and electronic waste, she said.

After seeing the facilities at the recycling depots, the committee started a polystyrene (styrofoam) program, but residents were required to clean all takeout trays and put them in separate bags for the polystyrene packaging.

Committee members like Barbara Cooper and Greta Van den Bossche have volunteered to drive around with their cars full of polystyrene, before dropping the refuse off at the depots.

Cooper has been an adamant recycler for 50 years. "When I moved to Markham in 1971, they actually had a recycling program in the area, while Toronto didn't even have it. I lived in a tiny cottage on a farm and I had to pay to have my garbage picked up, so it certainly helped me to reduce the amount of garbage," recalled Cooper.

A clean stretchable plastic program was also initiated in late fall of 2018, and 503 bags have been stuffed thus far.

Eyewears became a new program in 2021 when the committee set up a spring drive to collect obsolete or unwanted eyeglasses, sunglasses and readers.

They have collected 165 pieces and the glasses are taken semi-annually to opticians who will hold them for donation to the Lions Club, where all used eyeglasses are either reused or recycled, said Denise Cuttell.

A cardboard-only bin was also started in February 2021, as more people are shopping online during COVID-19, resulting in more discarded boxes.

With all those bins in place, Panza and her cohorts are in and out of the bin room every day to make sure everything is in order.

In a building with 201 suites, most residents are supportive and co-operative, but Panza says there are exceptions.

Panza admits she has to be very "politically correct" when she tries to teach residents one on one. "We try to educate them as much as we can, but we can't do much beyond that," she said.

"The education has been an ongoing effort with all different ways to reach residents, posters on info boards, emails, workshops, or just standing in the bin room answering questions," said committee liaison Lois Barrett.

Condo superintendent Tony Repose noticed a significant reduction in both garbage and recycle bins over the past three years.

Barrett believes the pilot project could inspire more communities to do similar projects. "People living in condos or highrises think they can't make much difference in terms of contributing to diverting waste from landfill, but this committee has proven that we can divert a ton of stuff," she said.

"We are all very proud of the work that Sharon and her committee do. It has leapfrogged us as a condo committee, it is inspirational not only to our own community but also to other people living in condo as well. Hopefully there are people stepping up like this."

The committee would welcome visitors from condos or highrises to review their programs and decide if they would apply to their buildings.

"We are fortunate to have the space and these dedicated volunteer residents to implement many programs within our community as we are striving to be an environmental leader in the City of Richmond Hill," said Panza.

To learn more tips to reduce waste, visit