bi-weekly garbage set-out — how would that work in practice?

Bi-weekly garbage set-out:  it sounds nice on paper:  it should motivate people to recycle more, extend the life of our landfill and cut municipal solid waste collection costs.  But how would that work in reality?  For a family of four?  Throughout a really hot summer, like the one we just had?

The answer is:  great.  Every other week, I got to take a break from taking out the trash! 

If you look back to one of my early posts “How Much Each Week”, you will see that I tracked how much and what type of garbage and recycling I set out each week from April 2012 through to the end of October 2012.  I went back every week and updated that same post.

As you can see, throughout that entire period, I set out garbage only every second week and recycling, of some sort, every week. 

Over that seven-month period, on the weeks that I put garbage to the curb, I generally only put out one garbage can, with the following exceptions:  an extra furnace filter (three times), old furniture (twice) and an extra bag (once).  Even though I put out garbage every two weeks, only, the garbage volumes stayed reasonable.

This bodes well for the rest of the city in the coming year.

saying no-thanks to packaging

I heard recently that Germans put out just a small bag of garbage because there has been a big push in Germany to reduce packaging.  If you go to a toy store, you might find toys like smurfs and fantasy creatures made in Germany, with far less packaging than comparable toys encased in layers of plastic, twist ties and endless cellophane tape.  Smurf figures have no packaging, and I’ve seen other toys from Germany with minimal and mostly recyclable cardboard packaging.

It’s a window on the possible.

Over the past several months, I looked for ways to avoid unnecessary packaging to reduce garbage volume.  I focused on food packaging.

I usually buy whole, fresh fruits and vegetables, rather than frozen or pre-cut ones–I think that’s healthier anyway.  The fruit and vegetable’s skin is often the only packaging that’s required, and it’s compostable. 

I use re-usable mesh bags for fresh produce.  I often forgo bags altogether:   if I’m just buying three tomatoes, I don’t bother putting them in any bag.

Sometimes stores package vegetables, such as corn on the cob, in styrofoam wrapped in cellophane.  I don’t buy vegetables like that.  Mushrooms are often presented like that, but some stores such as Farm Boy and Loblaws provide paper bags (recyclable!) to package mushrooms yourself.  I find that they keep better that way anyway.

Styrofoam packaging is pretty standard for fresh meat.  But there are exceptions.  Farm Boy sells a line of organic meat that is shrink-wrapped in sturdy plastic without any styrofoam.  So at least the garbage volume is decreased.  At some stores, if you order meat directly from the meat counter, they don’t use styrofoam there either.

How do you avoid packaging with the things you buy?

Sharing a Green Bin

I hit on a big eureka moment at the end of July.  And it’s still working!

A few people (like one of my neighbours) that I’ve talked with about the green bin think it’s a nice idea and all, but they live alone and don’t think they produce enough green bin-type waste to make it worthwhile to have one.  Sound familiar?  So they just throw it in the garbage.

I’ve heard of people who live in stacked townhouses who are in a similar situation, so they share a green bin among a few households. 

I have a standard full-size green bin (as opposed to the half-size models that are also available), and now that the City collects green bin materials every week, it’s usually only about half-full.

Back in late July, I talked to one of my neighbours about this–as we were already outside chatting about something else already–and welcomed her to put her compostable waste into my green bin.  I listed the things that can go into the green bin.

I want to avoid having to clean out a potentially gross green bin with someone else’s compostables, so the I told her about wrapping compostables in paper or putting them in a cardboard box (especially for messier food waste).  This summer, I put everything in a paper leaf and yard waste bag (tip:  they cost less than the ones designed for the green bin) inside the green bin.  So even if she doesn’t wrap stuff properly, the big brown bag will help limit mess.

She basically politely nodded and said yes…just to humour me? 

I store my green bin in the back yard;  that week, I started storing it in a corner of my yard where my neighbour can easily access it.

The big eureka moment was when I noticed that she had put some stuff in the green bin.  Great! 

That was a few months ago.  My neighbour continues to share my green bin, and so far, it’s worked out well–she has even brought it back from the road for me.  I think the key things that make it work is that I store it in the same place (the bin is predictably available), and she makes sure that stuff she puts in the green bin isn’t a dripping mess or it’s wrapped properly.

With the upcoming switch to bi-weekly residual garbage pickup, there’s been a lot of information floating around about what can go into the green bin, so that has helped too.  And it’s an extra incentive to start using the green bin.

What do you do if don’t generate very much compostable waste?

just another word for efficient: backyard composting

I’ll admit it:  I’ve got a lazy streak–which is why I compost waste in my backyard.  You know, with one of those standard black plastic composters with aeration holes. 

I figure that if I put fruit and vegetable waste out there, it’s that much less stuff to lug to the curb on garbage day.  Since about half of the material I put back there is water, a lot of it really disappears, but would add weight to the stuff I bring to the curb.

Plus it’s easier.  Jar of olives that’s past its prime?  Leftover oatmeal?  All of that watery stuff goes straight to the composter–no leaks, no mess.

When we eat dinner at the patio table outside, corn cobs and leftover vegetables go directly into the composter before I bring the dishes back into the house.

Once in a while, I cover the fruit and vegetable waste with leaves, old compost (which looks like a dark mix of ground, leaves and twigs) or ground.  This helps accelerate decomposition and discourages pests and odours.

I use two composters:  one right next to my back door and one further from the house . 

I use the one closest to the house is mostly in winter.  Trudging through snow that’s two feet deep to cross the yard to get to a backyard composter in January was a drag (…lazy).  I can empty fruit and vegetable waste into the composter without even changing out of my slippers (…lazy).  In the late spring, I usually cover it with a lot of ground or compost from the other composter.  

Then, when it’s nice out, I switch the routine:  I mostly use the composter that’s farther away from the house.  After a while, I layer material from the composter close to the house onto the second composter.

And for fruit and vegetable waste destined to the backyard composter, I don’t use a special container or kitchen catcher.  I just grab any sort of bowl that’s in the sink and empty it every day, then toss the bowl into the dishwasher–that way there’s no gross container to clean.  (Yeah, there’s that lazy thing again.) 

If you read up on backyard composters, they say that you should keep the contents of your composter about as damp as a wrung out sponge.  Right.  I’m not taking out the hose to water my garbage (…lazy).  I make sure it’s covered with a good layer of ground or older compost and leave the lid off the composter if rain is in the forcast.  Otherwise, I leave the cover on if we’ve been getting a lot of sun.

I put a lot of stuff into it, but I don’t get as much compost out of my backyard composter.  But it’s that much less stuff to drag to the curb…lazy!

How does backyard composting work for you?

preview of what’s next

What will I write about next?

On the 15th of every month, I change my Twitter (@trash_obssession) avatar to go with that month’s theme, and I post a new blog.

Here is what I have in mind (not cast in stone) for the next few months:

October            reducing the use of non-recyclables

November       owning my stuff (or What do Fight Club, SIOL and Cleen Sweep have in common?)

December        electronic waste

Stay tuned!

Are there any other topics you would like to discuss or read about?

Why I love Cerebral Palsy and Diabetes — the organisations

Why did I capitalise “cerebral palsy” and “diabetes”?  I love the organisations, of course, not the medical conditions.

The Ontario Federation for Cerebral Palsy (CP) and the Canadian Diabetes Association ( ) rock.

Both organisations seem to run the same program:  their trucks drive to my neighbourhood, pick up gently used clothing and various unwanted household items, and sell them to a second-hand shop.  This generates revenue for the charity and takes junk off my hands.   Awesome.

Sometimes I drop stuff off directly at Value Village or the Salvation Army, but sometimes I don’t get around to it, and CP calls every few months so I set stuff out on my front step and they make it disappear.  Like magic.  Awesome.

Where do you donate your superfluous stuff?

the green bin: next generation composting

Is composting a new old thing or an old new thing?

A great-great aunt of mine, who was something of an expert in home economics, reportedly said that throwing food scraps into the garbage is the craziest thing city folk do:  it’s a waste.  So says my octogenarian grandma who never stopped composting when she moved into the city.  Compost feeds her garden, and you should see the flowers, fruits and vegetables she grows.

For most of us though, recycling compostable material is some new wave thing.

I’ve been lucky to have had decades to warm up to the municipal Green Bin program. 

When I was a kid, we had a big garden and a compost bin of some sort that we used in the summer.  I got used to the idea of putting fruit and vegetable scraps and peelings into a separate container (with no lid…let’s not get too fancy, here) and then emptying it in the back yard.

It was an easy way to recycle, but it had its limitations.  Certain food wastes like meat scraps and bones can attract pests in a regular back yard composter, so we didn’t compost that stuff.

When I heard about the City of Ottawa’s Green Bin program, which was still in its pilot phase, I thought it would be great because it enables us to recycle a lot more than the shorter list of things that can go in the backyard composter.

Composting, like breastfeeding, was old is but is new again.  We have this opportunity to turn waste into a resource.  Today, Orgaworld, the company that processes the Green Bin contents, sells its product–compost–to farms.  I think my great-great aunt would have approved.

Now the question is, how do you make it convenient to get the material to the green bin week after week?