“Chute First” and ask questions later…

Is the humble rubbish chute overlooked as an important building asset?

Last week I got 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 as she had to go home and change. Having assured her I’d cover for her, some gentle questioning revealed she had to change as she’d gone to unblock the rubbish chute at her building only to have a 2‐litre bottle of milk (or cheese in this instance) explode all over her.

Fermenting opportunities notwithstanding, blockages of 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 up the chute just in time for a long weekend;

• A metal shelf from a $30 flatpack shelf sent down the chute – getting caught in the plastic chute 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;

• A 3.2‐meter 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‐story 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, however 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 odors and complications for removing the blockage, inconvenience and unforeseen costs to owners and administration by strata managers and executive committee for cost recovery efforts.

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 x 400mm, leading to a plastic lined tube that travels down to a landing. Rubbish chutes require control for rubbish falling from extreme heights so the occasional bend is added to reduce speed of descent. 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 of rubbish chutes is a matter unintendedly ignored by most complexes. Rubbish chutes generally service every floor in a building – often with an extraction fan to draw unpleasant odors away from the complex. Without careful management these chutes present the perfect opportunity for fire to spread quickly and catastrophically. In addition to preventing the buildup of waste, each chute door must be fire rated and self‐latching with a fusible link on the trap door at the base of the chute ensuring safety doors close in the event of a fire. Building Code of Australia (BCA) C3.13: and AS/NZS 1905.1:1997 cover these items.

Addressing rubbish chute challenges requires a multi-pronged approach including communication and education, proactive management and compliance, design and maintenance.

Strategies include:

• Clear communication with residents on how to best use the rubbish chute. This requires careful engagement and alignment with the executive committee to assist with communication with residents and compliance;

• Provision of alternate waste disposal options for large or bulky waste. This could include a hard waste removal service as part of building management services or advice on how to access municipal waste removing services where these exist;

• Situational awareness by building and strata managers – i.e, proactive management of residents moving in and out of the building to ensure waste removal options are clearly communicated and policed or clear advice to residents on appropriate waste disposal in the lead up to a long weekend or holiday;

• Regular maintenance of chutes, including:

• Daily inspections by building managers;

• Good communication with cleaning staff;

• Planned preventative maintenance of chutes, including regular cleaning to ensure no buildup of sticky residue or debris;

• Functionality and fire compliance inspections; and,

• Where these exist, maintenance of conveyor belts or sensors.

These issues are common across buildings of various size and price point. 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 prevention of 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.

Vantage Strata currently manages one particular building precinct processing ten tons of waste per week. Half a million tons per year on average through waste chutes. Waste reduction methods like composting organics would heavily reduce the waste going to landfill, however human behavior Is the biggest factor “doing the right thing”, are penalties the answer for non‐compliance, education, desire to do the right thing or finally having to do the right things through necessity? I’m not sure. In the meantime, the humble rubbish chute is a champion of modern living that I hope this essay has promoted more thought towards, helping the community and harmony in Strata living titles through more considerate waste management.

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