Maintenance Issues for Garbage Chutes - Let's Talk Trash

Article by Jason Tower & Andrew Beveridge


Garbage - it's a dirty word to most people who either have to handle it, dispose of it, or frankly think about it. It’s a topic all property managers and residents of apartment buildings have in the back of their mind. Whether it be the resident who treks down the hall to the garbage chute and “chutes” their garbage down, the building superintendent who changes the containers and sets them out for pick-up, or the property manager who receives complaints about smells, or rattling bottles coming down the chute at 3 a.m. 


No matter what you do with your garbage - ODOURS WILL EXIST!
This is an ongoing battle - wherever there is garbage, there will be some sort of odour. Keep in mind however; it is a battle you can win at your building. 
There are two basic odour sources in buildings: 
1. From the compactor where the garbage is decomposing.
2. From the garbage chute.
Through a disciplined approach, in cooperation with the building’s maintenance staff, these unwelcomed odours can be eliminated by three methods. 
1. A bi-weekly chute cleaning using the garbage chute wash-down system.
2. An automated odour control system.
3. Quarterly, semi-annual, or annual pressure cleaning of the garbage chute, compactor, and containers, depending on the property’s requirements.


By using the garbage chute wash-down system, maintenance staff will be able to remove the “fresh + wet” garbage lodged on the chute walls and compactor. This also assists with the building’s odour control program.


High-impact chute cleaning is recommended every quarter, semi-annually, or annually, depending on resident usage and size of building. Buildings with more than 150 units should consider this service on a semi-annual basis. Typically, this service consists of cleaning the chute using high-output (greater than 2500PSI) spray nozzles.

Your service company should include in its cleaning:
-A top to bottom interior chute cleaning
-Compactor cleaning
-Garbage container cleaning (compaction and non-compaction)

This service is carried out usually from early March through to late November, depending on outside temperature. Aside from the regulatory requirements regarding general cleanliness (usually contained in the property standards bylaw of the municipality - in the City of Toronto’s case, section 22), the golden rule: a healthy building starts with a healthy garbage chute. 

Residents may complain about the rancid smells in the building, dizziness, recurring colds, allergic reactions, and water eyes because of a dirty chute. Indoor air pollution is the “highest risk to human health among all types of environmental problems,” reports the U.S.-based EPA. It also states that indoor air pollution are often 10x higher than outdoor types.

If left unattended, garbage chute build-up can create serious problems for a building, including grease fires, odours, pest problems, and excessive wear & tear on the compactors and chutes.

Properly cleaned chutes and compactors have immediate benefits, such as the elimination of foul odours, flammable grease, and harmful bacteria. It essentially “Closes the cafeteria” on unwanted pests in your building. By having the chute, compactor and containers pressure cleaned, it is a reflection of the overall quality of a building’s maintenance, while at the same time also improving the resident’s quality of life in their community.

A recent sutdy by a Florida industrial hygienist analyzed a high-rise condominium’s dirty garbage chute and identified what types of elements were present. Ten random samples were collected from the build up on the inner chute walls on ten random floors, and wipe tests were also conducted. As a result, numerous forms of harmful bateria were found. An EPA analysis was carried out, and flashes were produced when an ignition source was introduced (indicating that the build-up was flammable). Even scarier was the inclusion of twice the regulatory limit of Dichlorobenzene. This hazardous waste is listed as a proven carcinogen in animals causing liver and kidney cancer.

Other bacteria and fungi identified were found to cause antibiotic resistance (high threat to those with a lowered or reduced immune system - elderly, those with asthma etc.), and/or serious or fatal infections. However, the risk is not just on chute door contact - it was also noted that at one point during the study the air flow from the chute reached an estimated 30MPH updraft - this poses possible risks of infection on the respiratory system (those with lowered or reduced immune systems are at highest risk) - people breathe this bad air in when they open the chute doors! When you weigh the risks associated with not doing anything, it’s not worth having a building full of sick people.

Finally, by using an automated odour control system, the building continues to remove un-wanted odours cause by “fresh” garbage coming down the chute and decomposing in the garbage compactor room.

For More Information:

Jason Tower
(416) 744-9183

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