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?

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?

The Sisterhood of the Travelling Blue Box

Last fall, my son and I went to some sort of City run information fair about waste management and conservation.  My son got a real kick out of flushing bright rubber tubes down a low flow toilet they had on display. Flushing over and over and over.  I got little more out of the recycling displays.

I learned that the City now accepts a wider range of plastics and even empty aerosol cans into the blue boxes.  That’s how I started recycling more last fall.  But I started recycling a long time ago.

Aluminium soft drink cans were one of the first things we started to recycle at school.  Drink containers are the best things to recycle—not too messy and the material tends to be in demand.       

When Cornwall (where I was living at the time) launched its municipal blue box program, my family started to put a variety of food containers in the blue box.  I don’t think we even rinsed them or took the labels off, but it was a start.

In the late 1990s, I went away to school in Guelph, Ontario.  Here, instead of a blue box, we put all the “dry”, non-compostable waste in clear blue plastic bags.  This was part ofGuelph’s experiment in a Wet/Dry garbage system, wherein all household waste went into one of those two waste streams.  By then, I was rinsing out tin cans before chucking them.

I lived in student residence the summer of 1998 in Rimouski, Quebec.  I didn’t see any recycling program there…  Really?  We just put recyclables in the garbage?  Weird.  Recycling had become second nature.

When I lived in an apartment in Cornwall, I had a small blue box that I would empty into one of the blue carts by the parking lot when I took my trash to the dumpster.

At my apartment in Williamsburg, we stored recyclables in an outdoor wooden cupboard. Williamsburg was quaint and small like that. 

Most communities use the blue box, but the program is a bit different in each to suit the community.  What goes into the blue box is different from one city to the next and changes over time.  So part of the recycling habit is keeping tabs on the latest recycling news.  How do you get the blue box to fit in where you are?

using the black box

Like the little black dress, your black box is versatile must-have.  In a pinch, you can also use the black box as an extra blue box for recyclables other than paper.  The black box is super-useful because it can hold a lot of paper and boxes that would otherwise take up a lot of space in the garbage.

If you are just starting to recycle, paper and cardboard are the easiest things to start with.  

Here’s how it works at our place:

We keep the black box out of sight in the basement.  We used to tuck it into the back of our entranceway closet, which was super-convenient for quickly ditching junk mail before it starts reproducing in some dark corner…seriously!  Amid some repainting and reorganizing last summer, the black box got relegated to the basement.

I think the biggest challenge is actually getting the paper and cardboard to the black box…without having a cluttering little pile of recyclables on the counter or near the stairs to the basement. 

At my place, the kitchen is where we regularly generate the most garbage and recyclables. 

I saw the coolest thing at some friends’ house a while back:  a two-compartment kitchen garbage can.  I recently bought one.  We put garbage on one side and paper/cardboard and other recyclables on the other side.  This system works so much better than the pile system:  no clutter and a container to easily take a worthwhile bunch of newspapers, cardboard egg cartons and cereal boxes and the like to the basement.

You could also look into an under-the-sink pull-out systems with multiple compartments, although these usually cost much more.  Another idea in an extra waste basket or bucket dedicated to recyclables.

The trick is to figure out what makes things easiest for your household, with a focus on the spaces where you typically generate the most paper and cardboard waste.

Good luck, and please share new ideas

How much each week?

an ongoing list of how much garbage and recycling my family puts to the road each week:


First week of April:       one garbage can, one black box and one green bin

Second week of April:   one blue box and one green bin

Third week of April:      one garbage can, one black box and one green bin, plus two empty cardboard boxes that didn’t fit in the black box

Fourth week of April:   one blue box and one green bin

First week of May:        one garbage can, one black box and one green bin

Second week of May:    one blue box and one green bin

Third week of May:      one garbage can, a crib mattress, a furnace filter, two black boxes (I had a backlog of shredded paper), one green bin

Fourth week of May:   2 “blue” boxes (my black box served as an extra blue box filled with recyclables a neighbour and I collected from a park) and one green bin

First week of June:      2 recycling bins of paper/cardboard, an empty box, one garbage can and one green bin

Second week of June:  2 “blue” boxes and one green bin

Third week of June:     1 black box, one garbage can and one green bin

Fourth week of June:   1 green bin

Fifth week of June:       1 black box, one garbage can and one green bin 

First week of July:        2 blue boxes and one green bin

Second week of July:    1 black box, one garbage can, one furnace filter, and one green bin

Third week of July:       1 blue box and one green bin

Fourth week of July:     1 black box, one garbage can, one crib frame, and one green bin

First week of August:    1 blue box and one green bin

Second week of August: 1 black box, one garbage can, and one green bin

Third week of August:    2 “blue” boxes and one green bin

Fourth week of August:  1 black box, one garbage can, a furnace filter and one green bin

Fifth week of August:      1 blue box and one green bin

First week of September: 1 black box, one garbage can, and one green bin

Second week of September: 1 blue box and one green bin

Third week of September:    1 black box, one garbage can, and one green bin

Fourth week of September:  1 blue box and one green bin

First week of October:             1 black box, one garbage can and a garbage bag, and one green bin

Second week of October:        1 blue box and one green bin

Third week of October:            1 black box, and one green bin (now that the rest of the City is going to biweekly garbage pickup, I needed to get in sync with a new schedule:  garbage will be picked up the same week as the blue bin)

Fourth week of October:         1 blue box and one garbage can and one green bin

 Fifth week of October:             1 green bin (I forgot to take out the black bin)

For anyone not familiar with Ottawa’s recycling system:

Black box:  paper and cardboard

Blue box:   plastic, metal and glass recyclables

Green bin: compostable waste

my garbage story, or this is how my family generates less than one can of trash per week

I’ve been dealing with garbage for a long time. 

…or how I cut down from a two to five per week habit to a less than one per week habit:

It goes back to my childhood…Ah yes, there I am in my fluorescent orange T-shirt and faded overalls riding my fluorescent pink and sky blue skateboard back up the driveway…

I load another garbage can onto the skateboard and pull it down the driveway.  Repeat.  I lived in a household of five, plus my dad had a small home-based business. It was the late `80s inCornwall:  acid-washed jeans were cool, and fine paper recycling was just starting to catch on at school. 

We produced in the ballpark of 2 to 5 cans of garbage. 

Every week.

Fast forward to 2012.  Today, my family of four produces between 1/2 to 2/3 of a can of garbage per week. 

How did I get from there to here?  My household changed its habits over time:  we recycle a lot, and I’ve found ways to minimize the amount of garbage we produce.

I look for ways to reduce the amount of non-recyclable garbage we produce;  I think of ways to make it more convenient to make waste-reduction a habit.  

The key is continuous improvement of habits.

My goal, this summer, is to only produce 1/2 a can of garbage per week, and only take out the garbage every second week.

I’ll blog on my thoughts and progress.  I’ll ask for your feedback and ideas.  Every month, I’ll focus on a different theme.  Even though the mantra is ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ in that order of priority, I’ll focus on recycling first since I think that’s the easiest way to quickly reduce your amount of ‘garbage’.

I’ll share my experience as a sort of case-study only.  If you’re looking for detailed information about the City of Ottawa’s waste management services and recycling programs, please visit