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Trash Chutes 101

What is a trash chute? It’s a length of tubing made from galvanized steel that allows objects to fall from a higher to a lower point. Chutes must be one continuous length from top to bottom and the design, installation, and maintenance are regulated by the National Fire Protection Agency. There are several different types of chutes, however they are identical in construction except for the entry and exit points. There are two different types of entry doors, one with a hinge on the side allowing you to open to the left like a car door and one with a hinge on the bottom which would be similar to a mailbox opening that you pull down. To learn more about the history, design, and construction of chute’s click here.

The type of chute you have is determined by what material is put into it. Some of the more common items are trash, recycling, and linen. Trash and recycling will usually be found in an apartment building or residential high rise while linen chutes would be more common in a hotel.

Maintaining a chute and all the parts is important, and that includes the doors on both ends. The door on each floor where materials are deposited is called the intake door. Latches and hinges need to be checked on a regular basis. The doors should create a seal when shut to keep odors and germs in and smoke or flame from spreading in the event of a fire. The discharge doors are at the bottom and need to be maintained too. Some open with springs which are triggered by weight, some are automated, and others must be opened manually. How the discharge doors open is usually determined by where the items are landing. In a bigger building, it would be common for trash or recycle chutes to empty directly into a compactor. While a smaller building with less room may have a manual door that empties into a dumpster. The dumpster can then be pushed out for garbage pickup a few times per week.

Making sure that all the parts of the chute are functioning correctly is only half the maintenance; chutes need to be cleaned and sanitized regularly as well. Building managers and superintendents are typically in charge of maintaining the chutes and will usually have some type of annual contract in place for these services.

A big part of chute maintenance falls on the residents because they are the individuals utilizing the chutes daily. Most have signs posted at each intake door outlining what can and cannot be put through the chute and instructions on how to dispose of or break down certain items. For garbage chutes, all household waste should be wrapped and sealed tightly in plastic bags. For recycle chutes it is best to crush milk cartons and gallon plastic milk jugs along with soda cans and any other items that can be made smaller. For linen chutes only, linens should be dropped down – no shoes or hangers.

When bulky items like wood, metal, furniture, and large pieces of cardboard are dropped down the chutes, it can cause many serious issues. Sometimes it will jam the compactor causing it to work harder or even result in a motor blowout. Liquids like soda and juice or detergents and soaps can seep into the smaller parts of the compactor and cause damage to the gears and other moving parts. Rules outlined at the intake doors of your chutes should be observed exactly as written to keep your chutes and compactors working efficiently.

In addition to causing physical damage, allowing liquids or food debris to be spread around the inside of the chutes causes bacteria and mold to grow. These result in poor air quality which isn’t just unhealthy for breathing but also very smelly. Those smells attract rodents and bugs which are difficult to exterminate and costly; especially roaches and rats. They multiply quickly and one or two can become hundreds in a very short period of time.

Observing the guidelines for proper disposal and chute use keeps the entire system in good condition. Emergency repairs and cleanings are expensive and they’re not always available immediately. When trash chutes and compactors are out of order, residents are the first to suffer. Practicing proper chute etiquette is not just helpful to the building staff but an act of kindness towards your neighbors.



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