Is the humble rubbish chute overlooked as an important building asset?
Last week I received a call from one of my new building managers. She was distraught, telling me she was going to be late to our meeting with the new owners’ corporation president because she had to go home and change.
Having assured her I’d cover, some gentle questioning later revealed she needed a different outfit because she’d gone to unblock the rubbish chute at her building only to have a two-litre bottle of milk (or cheese in this instance) explode all over her.
Fermenting opportunities notwithstanding, blocked rubbish chutes in complexes is a common and at times expensive problem faced by residents, owners and strata companies. Other real and recent examples of rubbish chute issues include:
- A rug rolled up and pushed down the chute – only to unroll halfway down and clog it up just in time for a long weekend;
- A metal shelf from a $30 flatpack shelf sent down the chute – getting caught in the plastic hygiene lining. Remediation of this blockage involved demolition of the compartment wall, removal of the built up-waste and obstruction, reinstatement and fireproofing at a cost of $24,000 to the owners’ corporation; and
- Unbelievably, a 3.2-metre shark (actual, not toy) stuck in the chute – creating an exciting safety issue for the building manager on-site at the time.
Waste chutes are common in multi-storey apartment buildings of five floors or more. They allow fast disposal of waste within the building via gravity and a collection receptacle at the bottom.
Simple in principle, there are a range of design, management and maintenance considerations which need to be considered to ensure effective use. Blockages have multiple flow-on effects such as the waste chute being unable to be used for lengthy periods, hygiene issues, unpleasant odours and complications for removing the blockage, inconvenience, and unforeseen costs to owners and administration.
At first glance the design and construction principles for rubbish chutes is straightforward. Intended to cater for bagged rubbish generated by apartment households, a standard chute door is 400mm by 400mm, leading to a plastic lined tube that travels down to a landing.
But what is standard rubbish generated by households? What kind of bag should residents use – should it be tied? Can the chutes accommodate recycled goods too? Where does my pizza box go? The bends in chutes, critical to the design, are also often the site for blockages.
Fire compliance is a matter inadvertently ignored by most complexes. Rubbish chutes generally service every floor in a building – often with an extraction fan to draw unpleasant odours away from the complex.
Without careful management, these chutes present the perfect opportunity for fire to spread quickly and catastrophically.
Addressing rubbish chute challenges requires a multi-pronged approach. Strategies include clear communication with residents on how to best use the rubbish chute, and the use of alternate waste disposal options for large or bulky waste. Situational awareness by building and strata managers and regular maintenance of chutes are also important.
These issues are common across buildings of various size and price. For higher-end developments, luxury inclusions mean very little if you have to take your rubbish out by hand, risking mess and carpet stains from leaking rubbish bags.
A clear opportunity exists for developers and builders to seek advice from building and strata managers to anticipate and address waste management effectively in the design and subsequent construction phase of developments. Small and practical adjustments can often make for substantial savings and prevent future costly remediation or compliance activity.
Methods to reduce waste for buildings are fast becoming a priority and a billion-dollar industry that requires more focus. One particular building precinct managed by Vantage Strata processes 10 tons of waste per week – half a million tons per year on average – through waste chutes. Waste reduction methods such as composting organics would heavily reduce the waste going to landfill, however human behaviour is the biggest factor in “doing the right thing”.
Are penalties the answer for non-compliance? Or is it education? Whatever the answer, the humble rubbish chute is a champion of modern living.