What Can Go Down a Garbage Chute?

Maybe you have one in your apartment building, or maybe you came across one in a highrise building. Trash chutes have a small door that leads to a central location where the disposed of garbage is collected. They are an important part of the health, safety, and cleanliness of your building. So, what type of trash can you put in a garbage chute?

What can go down a garbage chute? Most domestic non-hazardous waste can go down a garbage chute. Non-hazardous waste can include food scraps, bottles, paper, and empty aerosol cans.  All domestic waste should be bagged, and the bag has to be tied tightly before disposal – loose items, like single cans and packaging boxes, should never be disposed of in a garbage chute. If you have a hard time getting the bag in the garbage chute, then it’s too big and should be taken to the main trash area in the building. Things like pizza boxes or other oversized boxes should also be avoided as they can get stuck in the chute. Other things that you should never put in a garbage chute include:

  • Live plants – they can leak sap inside the chute
  • Protruding objects like hangers – they can get stuck
  • Flammable items such as lit cigarettes are potential fire hazards.

Items such as dirty diapers and cat litter have to be wrapped tightly in secure bags before they’re disposed of in garbage chutes.

Having a garbage chute in your building can make it easier to get rid of the trash. However, if improperly used, it can lead to several issues, including unpleasant odors and trash buildup. Read on to find out what can (and can’t) go down a garbage chute.

What is a garbage chute?

A garbage chute is a long vertical space that passes by each floor of a building and has openings on each or alternate floors. Garbage that is placed in the chute drops to a dumpster or compactor found at the bottom of the cylinder. Garbage chutes are a continuous length, which means that people on the top floor and those on lower floors use the same chute to dispose of their trash downward. Openings are generally located in a separate space or a small room inside the buildings and are usually covered with lids.

In newer buildings, you may find a more sophisticated garbage chute system that can efficiently sort trash, organic waste, and recycling. Often known as a tri-sorter, this type of system can send garbage to one of three containers using a shift motorized metal plate. 

For this to work, residents must indicate where the waste they want to get rid of should go by selecting one of three buttons located on a panel next to the chute door. If the chute is already in the process of moving something, a resident may have to wait a few moments before they can make a selection. Tri-sorters feature a panel that indicates if the garbage chute is available for use, if it’s in use, or if it’s out of service. 

Before trash chutes, disposing of trash required residents in the building to dump their trash in a remote location on the property. This required dragging considerable weight, often all the way down stairways or elevators. In addition to being cumbersome, this inefficient method of trash removal also resulted in unpleasant odors and health hazards especially if a trash bag accidentally burst open.

How does a garbage chute work?

Items slide from a higher to a lower level of a garbage chute by means of gravity. Trash chutes are typically made up of the following components:

  • Compactor – this may be a single waste container or multiple containers for a recycling system. A compactor is typically located in the trash room. 
  • Discharge door
  • Steel chute – features expansion joints that are usually located on each floor.
  • Chute support frames are installed on each floor and are usually made of steel angles and bar stock.
  • Trash chute intake door – found on each floor and is typically hinged at the bottom.

In a trash chute system, the compactor is often a steel container that can be a fully automatic, hydraulically operated mechanism, or a small, simple cubic yard steel container. 

Chutes are generally made from heavy gauge (usually 16 gauge) metal such as galvanized steel, aluminized steel, or stainless steel. A majority of chute manufacturers offer chute diameters from 20 inches up to 36 inches. The trash chute intake door and discharge door sizes are dependent on the specified size of the chute diameter. For example, for a 20-inch chute diameter, the recommended intake door size is 15 inches x 18 inches (width x height), and 20 inches x 30 inches for the discharge door size. For a 36-inch chute diameter, the recommended intake door size is 21 inches x 18 inches, and 36 inches x 48 inches for the discharge door size.

Intake doors are self-closing and are typically made from stainless steel. Many designs have an electric interlock which allows only one door to be opened at any given time and keeps the other intake doors locked at all times except during use. The discharge door is located just above the compactor or collection container. There are two main types of discharge doors:

  • Standard discharge doors – These consist of a sliding discharge plate in a steel track assembly that is spring-loaded and held open by a U.L approved fusible link.
  • Hopper-type discharge doors – Unlike standard types, these consist of a steel “B” label door. They’re also held open by a fusible link.

Most modern garbage chute designs feature a flushing spray unit that helps to maintain, clean, and deodorize the system. This mechanism is usually located above the highest intake door which is connected to the water supply of the building.

Trash chutes must remain uninterrupted from floor to floor through the entire building, from its lowest level through the roof. Like an elevator shaft, garbage chutes can create a chimney effect for the spread of fire and smoke throughout the building especially if the chute is not protected by a fire-rated assembly. To help minimize the possibility of fire and smoke spreading through a trash chute, chutes are required to comply with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) regulations.

What are the most common types of garbage?

To understand what can and can’t go in a garbage chute, it’s important to know the types of garbage commonly generated in a household. The most common types of residential waste include:

  • Food waste – This includes food scraps and vegetable wastes such as fruit and vegetable peelings. 
  • Green waste – This consists of landscaping waste such as grass, tree limbs, weed clippings, and branches.
  • Recyclable waste – These are items that can be converted into reusable materials. They include cardboard, paper, food and beverage containers, metal, and glass. 
  • Electrical waste (e-waste) – As the name suggests, e-waste is generated from electrical devices, including TVs, telephones, computer and computer parts, printers, and so on. These often contain toxic metals like mercury, lead, cadmium, and brominated flame retardants, all of which pose a danger to humans and the environment.
  • Medical waste – Pharmaceutical waste associated with hospitals, health care centers, and clinics may also be found in residential units. They should always be disposed of with care even if they are not marked hazardous.
  • Hazardous waste – Household hazardous waste can be found in consumer products sold for personal care, home care, pest control, and automotive care. Examples include oil paint, drain cleaners, pesticides, herbicides, antifreeze, and fuel. They may be toxic, inflammable, reactive, or corrosive, 
  • Construction and demolition waste – This is usually bulky material generated during construction and renovation projects. It may include materials such as wood, carpeting, tiles, plumbing fixtures, brick, concrete, and fill dirt. 

What can go down a garbage chute?

Most types of garbage can go down a garbage chute, but there are some specifications on how to use the chute so that it doesn’t get blocked and continues to work properly. They include:

  • Make sure that all the items that you intend to put in the garbage chute are bagged, and the bag should be tied securely. Do not put loose trash in the garbage chute. This is because loose items like single cans and packaging can block the garbage chute mechanism, cause backups, and even shut down the system or damage the compactor.
  • Use smaller garbage bags. The smaller the bag you put your trash in, the quicker and easier it will make its way to the bottom of the chute. Although large 30-gallon trash bags can accommodate more items, they are often challenging to get in the chute. If you somehow manage to force a large bag into the intake door, it could still get stuck in the chute and cause garbage to build up, resulting in some very foul smells. To avoid this, opt to use 13-gallon bags and a smaller garbage can.
  • Take the trash out nightly instead of allowing it to build up for a week or several days.
  • Break your trash down as much as you can. Flatten your juice or milk cartons and crush your k-cups.

What should you never put in a garbage chute?

  • Christmas trees, garland, and wreaths should never be thrown down the garbage chute. This is because they lean sap on the inside of the chute. Sap has a glue-like consistency and is difficult to clean off. In a garbage chute, it will catch and stick to everything that is thrown down there afterward. In addition, these materials are typically very dry by the time they are discarded which can make them a serious fire hazard.
  • Cleaning products such as disinfectants and liquid soaps should not be disposed of down the garbage chutes. This is because these liquids leave residue inside the chute which can end up getting into the gears of the compactor. They are also commonly flammable and generally hazardous – the mixing of a variety of cleaners in the compactor room such as ammonia and chlorine could release potentially fatal fumes.
  • Strands of light (such as fairy lights or Christmas lights) should never be discarded via the garbage chute. Even if you wrap them up tightly, they might still end up unraveling and winding up around other bits of debris and potentially clog up the compactor.
  • Pizza boxes are some of the biggest trash chute offenders. They should always be carried down to the recycle room, or, at the very least, broken down flat along with all other cardboard boxes, magazines, and newspapers before being disposed of in the recycling container of a tri-sorter.
  • Hangers and similar protruding objects must never be thrown down a garbage chute as they can easily get stuck and cause blockages and backups. Furthermore, they make it harder for the compactor to function and can contribute to the breakdown of the motors and belts.
  • Never toss burning cigarettes, cigars, or any other flammable items down the trash chute as they could potentially cause a fire to break out in the system.

Items that require special attention

  • Cat litter and dirty diapers should be wrapped up as tightly as possible in a secured trash bag. They should never be discarded down a garbage chute without being contained. This way, germs can’t spread all over the walls of the chute and create a breeding ground for potentially health-threatening bacteria. Additionally, cat litter has the consistency of sand and can cause the gears of the compactor to break down or burn out if it gets inside the moving parts of the system. 
  • Food waste such as leftovers must be packed tightly and securely in leak-proof trash bags. Any bag put into a garbage chute shouldn’t have rips or tears in the sides, and the tops should be knotted shut.
  • Bathroom and toilet trash should always be tossed out in a tightly sealed bag to prevent germs from spreading.

Final thoughts

Garbage chutes get constant use in residential units. You must take care when it comes to disposing of trash and recyclables to help keep these useful systems running smoothly and minimize the unpleasant odors and bacteria coming out of garbage chutes. If something seems questionable, then it probably shouldn’t go down your garbage chute.

Melanie Asiba

Melanie is an author, and she enjoys traveling, reading, and trying out new things. In addition to writing for Apartment ABC.

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