Where’ve ya bin, Ottawa?

The city of Ottawa has been abuzz in giddy anticipation.

After almost a decade of dithering, discussing, piloting, debating, studying, backtracking, forging ahead and reconsidering, our  City Council has finally unveiled something they’re calling Green Bin Ottawa.

And, (I can barely stand the suspense)  right now, at this very moment,  many teams of professional bin delivery professionals are out delivering shiny new “Green Bins” to homes all over metro Ottawa.

And boy, oh boy are we excited. Because, you see,  as I understand it, the City of Ottawa, with the help of “science”, has invented something called “composting”. Somehow, this process turns garbage into nutrient-rich soil; and somehow it’s all related to these “Green Bins”. I don’t know why or how or what my role in this is because no one has explained it to me yet.

But wait! Fortunately, the City of Ottawa, at great expense, has hired a team of professional PR professionals to teach us all about the intricacies and mystical wonders of composting. This amazing harnessing-of-nature-composting-miracle is being advertised far and wide. The local media has been full of stories about this crazy new invention. There’s a website complete with catchy graphics; a Facebook page, and…

Ye gods, there’s even a TWITTER account (presumably tweeting minute-by-minute updates on the awesome green bin roll-out campaign).

They reckon it will take about 12 weeks to get the 200,000+ “Green Bins” distributed.  TWELVE WEEKS. Are they being delivered by OC Transpo? Ha ha!

But seriously, I keep saying Ottawa has a big problem with urban sprawl. Now maybe they’ll understand the difficulties of having to take the Northwest Passage to get to Barrhaven.

And then, once we all have our mysterious  new “Green Bins”  we all have to sit and admire them for a few months (or use them as shopping carts or nice planters or something) since no one is picking up any green bin waste until 2010.


The Green Bin Ground Crew – liason officers working on behalf of the Green Bin Program – will be engaging Ottawa residents to make sure they clearly understand how to use their green bins.

Because Ottawa residents are, of course, not all rocket scientists and so need thorough instruction on how to chuck out their potato peelings.

I can’t decide whether to die laughing or cry from embarassment. This is the capital city of Canada. We should be leading the way in innovative environmental initiatives, not scurrying around way behind the rest of the country and then just copying whatever they do.  After diddling around with it for almost 10 years!!  Sheesh. If we’re going to come this late to the party, we should at least be wearing a dazzling gown.

And, the only reason we’re getting a green bin program at all is because we’ve run out of  landfill options.  Ottawa is one of the last cities in the country to still be dumping this kind of household waste into landfills.

I guess there’s been a lot of opposition to the green bin program in Ottawa. It’s costly: $14 million for start-up and $13 million every year to operate. But if other cities are any indicators, the program will also generate some new business – green bin cleaners, manufacturers of green bin liners and green bin deodorizers, green bin protest support groups, etc., etc.  And, anyway, how do we put a price tag on long-range environmental benefits?

Also, there’s the notion that people will be too lazy or too stupid to use green bins correctly. After all, if people wanted to compost, why wouldn’t they already have a composter in their back yard? And then they’d actually get to use the compost on their own gardens. Instead, the City of Ottawa has contracted Orgaworld Canada (part of Orgaworld BV, a DUTCH company) to process  the green bin waste and turn it into compost, which they (Orgaworld) will then sell to local farmers ( except for the 10% they’re giving back to the city – FOR FREE!)

I don’t know. I’m a fan of composting. It makes good sense. A municipally-run composting program would make more sense to me if it was for apartment/condo residents first, with homeowners using  a back-yard system. Ottawa is doing it backwards. But I guess I should shut-up and be happy they’re doing something.Larry




Mayor Larry O’Brien contributes
his own personal waste in support of the program.

40 responses to “Where’ve ya bin, Ottawa?

  1. Agreed. I would not use a composting program, as our half acre lot in Gatineau sports two homemade compost bins already. It would make a lot more sense to start with apartments/condos in the urban core and work their way out. If you want to help the yard-owners, give them a small discount on property taxes for having their own composting facilities at home. After all, it should save the city money for not having to collect at every home. I think. Who knows anymore?

    I can’t for the life of me figure out why Ottawa-Gatineau is so far behind in this area. It IS embarrassing! Gatineau isn’t starting this program until spring of 2010, either. Why are we so late on this?

  2. Well at least you have one. Some areas of Montreal have been testing composting for oh so many years, but it hasn’t reached my area (or that of anyone I know)…

    I’m reduced to bringing my composting to the cottage to dump in the composter I installed up there.

  3. This is hysterical–your post and this project.
    The poor beaurocrats just don’t know what end is up anymore.
    We, meaning our family, started our own homegrown green movement a few years ago. Instead of paying $17 a month to fill the garbage dump, we: recycle anything recyclable (and the county has a large facility for this), compost our own compost and end up with a $3 garbage bill, a month, for the two bags of garbage left from five people and a dog are done with them. Mostly plastic wrappers.

  4. I agree! I am embarrassed by the nonsense and the bullshit and long to shout, “the Emperor has no clothes!” What is wrong with these people and why do we keep voting for them?

  5. On the point about the public education campaign, I think this will be very necessary, as it seems most people don’t know how to use their blue bin. I don’t know how many times I see styrofoam and other non-recyclable plastics tossed into people’s blue bins, or milk cartons and disposable coffee cups in people’s black boxes. Presumably we’re paying someone to sort through all the stuff collected from the blue bins.

    Ever seen them empty the silver public recycling bins? The ones with different holes for newspapers, metal/glass, plastic, and garbage? They just empty the whole thing into the same dumpster and sort it at their plant. Oy.

    And the worst part is that while the City likes to say how much impact this stuff has on our recycling rates, that’s only the residential waste volume, which is much less than industrial and commercial waste. The City needs to bring back small business recycling pickup, which it cut a few years back (without cutting commercial taxes accordingly).

    No matter what programs the City provides, I could go to great pains to cut 100% of the waste I produce (I already compost anyway), and the environmental impact would be but a fraction of the impact of some non-recycling suburban family taking the smallest step. Keeners like you and me are not the low-lying fruit, and I lament that the green bin program reaches for the top of the tree.

    – RG>

  6. *blinks*

    that is what this green bin stuff is about that i see on the bus.. i wondered.

    but seriously.. there will be large trucks putting out fumes and junk into the air to pick up waste that one could compost in their own back yard?

    i dont get it.

    i wont have a green bin planter *pouts* cause i live in a building and i doubt they will give us one.

    anyways, the dealers in the building will just use it to hide crack in or make a bong out of i am sure so its best left elsewhere.

    PS: dryer lint is compostable… not many people know that.

  7. Maven – I don’t understand why everyone with a home doesn’t compost. A nice backyard bin doesn’t take up much room and you get nice compost for your flower beds/garden and what you don’t use, you can always donate to community gardens. (PS: You guys own a half acre lot? Wow)

    Jazz – It’s odd. Nova Scotia totally banned compostable household waste from their landfills in 1995 and has had a municipal composting program since then. And they’re supposed to be the hicks. If you’re interested the document is here.

    Stine – Thanks for visiting the blog and leaving a comment. I suspect the foot dragging can be blamed in part on the citizens of the city as well. If they had yelled loudly enough for the program, it might have happened sooner.

    Sheryl – People in rural areas have been doing this forever. Growing up we always had a compost pile. Of course we also burned everything that would burn and then saved up the rest of the stuff to drive to the dump once a month.

    Julia – I don’t know. I wasn’t here when any of these people were elected. It’s mind-boggling really.

    Grouchy – Anyone who cares and is interested in doing their bit has made it their business to find out how best to do their bit. People who dump their garbage in other people’s blue bins are just ignorant and all the Tweeting and jolly ad campaigns in the world isn’t going to make them toe the environmental line. It’s going to be a slow process to get everyone on board. Even in Halifax, where composting/recycling had more or less become second nature for most people, there were always still the ignorant who stubbornly remained ignorant – and always will.

    Jobthingy – They’re busy plotting ways to get apartment buildings into the program over the next couple of years. And I agree, they could have (long ago) waged a campaign to encourage home owners to compost in their back yards and then just devised this municipal program for apartments, businesses, condos, etc. Too bad we’re not on city council, eh?

  8. 1995 ?!?!

    Are you serious? We need to clone these people as soon as possible and replace our municipal officials.


  9. My house was on the green-bin pilot, so we had one for years. In fact, they just replaced the gargantuan green bin we had for the pilot with the pathetic little green bin for the real program.

    personally, I’m getting tired of these bins programs.

    Put your paper in the black box, put your cans in the blue box, put your pizza boxes in the green box even though they’re paper, put your nuclear weapons in the yellow box, put your tires in the chartreuse box, put your empty soap boxes in the translucent puce box, put your old 80’s skinny leather ties in the plaid box, put your unused boxes in the pink box, oh and buy a new house with a bigger garage to store all this crap between pickups.

    Maybe I’m evil, but I get tired of sorting my garbage to a greater degree than I sort my laundry.

  10. On a more serious note.. I have seen that with the advent of blue boxes many peopel wash their garbage before putting it in the recycling.

    it sort of makes sense – you put a metal food can in recycling with remnants of food in it and you’ll have critter and aroma problems.


    You’re wasting water to wash your garbage. think about that for a moment. Even if it just a 5 second blast under the tap, it’s multiplied by all the people who do it. It’s a phenomenal waste – but it’s necessary unless you like mice and raccoons around your house.

    I’ve even seen people put stuff like this in the dishwasher. They’re answer, when called on it, is “well I was running the dishwasher anyway”, and my response is “if it wasn’t full of your garbage, you could actually be washing dishes with it… or not running it at all saving water and electricity”

    I’ve never been convinced that the true cost of recycling has been fully calculated or revealed.

  11. I’m with you on the apartments first thing. Now there’s a situation where you’d need to have someone taking your compost away because there’s a limit to how much you can use yourself in that kind of setting.

    The key, I think, to making it work is making it mandatory. How many Nova Scotians do you think would be regularly composting if they weren’t required to? My parents used to tell me stories about the garbage men refusing to take someone’s regular garbage because something compostable accidentally made it into the regular bags. That kind of penalty will make you start paying really close attention.


    You are so right. My husband has looked into a lot of this and depending on how the recycling is set up, it can be more wasteful. I do rinse my beer cans and food cans and plastics before recycling and I’m sure it uses a lot of water. It’s a tough call. I believe paper recycling uses tons of water and fuel, but at least maybe that saves some trees. Thanks for bringing that up because most people send their stuff off in their bins and never think about what’s done with it afterwards.

  13. Will be interesting to see what the wildlife thinks of those green bins. Especially in the out-lying areas.

    To a bear, those probably look like tasty green Tupperware containers full of food.

  14. Grouchy – Is it too late to add them? It might delay the project by 15 years..

    Jazz – Nova Scotia is way ahead of the game in some areas and way behind in others. Don’t be in too much of a rush to snap them up.

    Woodsy – Groaning along with you.

    Squid – Maybe you have too much garbage? Up north they have little garbage houses by the side of the road in front of all the houses. In the garbage house go all your boxes and garbage. The garbage house keeps the critters away and the garbage safe and warm. No need to wash your cans or dust your newspapers. I think the city should start a Garbage House program and dole out garbage houses to each and every citizen.

    Louise – They do that in NS. They first leave you little notes about how your garbage isn’t sorted right, then it escalates from there. I think it’s kind of pathetic that people have to be policed to sort their garbage correctly. But anyway, yes — picking up compost from people who have more than they need would be an excellent small business for people. They already have little businesses that come and pick fruit from people’s backyards who don’t have time or don’t want to pick their giant backyard apple tree. They then take the fruit to shelters or Food Banks. Same thing could happen with compost. Someone picks it up and delivers it to community gardens or something.

    Geewits – There have long been a lot of questions around where this stuff goes, how it’s handled after pick-up, etc… And it certainly isn’t as black and white as it seems on the surface. We can save some trees but waste water — trees are a renewable resource, water not so much. I usually rinse my cans too, but I wash them in the dishwater after I’ve washed dishes. Bottles and drink cans I don’t bother rinsing.

    Friar – They ARE awfully tiny, I must say. I don’t see how they’re going to hold 2 weeks worth of compost for the average family – nevermind how they’re expected to put leaves and yard waste in there in the fall. They’re so small they can easily wander off or get blown away once empty, buried by snowplows and/or dragged around by animals The bins have a latch that’s supposed to keep critters out, but we all know how well latches (plastic) work. They’ll freeze up in the winter, they’ll break in no time, people will forget to latch them, the pick up guys will get tired of having to unlatch them. I’m sure we’ll start hearing all about it in 2010. Can’t wait!!

  15. I can think of all kinds of uses for the green bins until 2010. Grizzly Bear food dishes… Ok, I can only think of one, but it’s a good one. Also, we’re all going to die in 2012 so let’s not get caught up in all this “long term thinking” nonsense. We’ve never done it before and it has none of the “instant gratification” qualities we require as a society. I will say that this “compost” thing is an intriguing concept. If only someone would have thought of it before it was too late.

  16. Hannah – That would make for some mighty toxic soil.

    Alison – By then your compost should be superb.

    Schmutzie – Wow, twice in a row. Thank you so much and a really big thank you to whoever submitted the post.

    Mayopie – No worries. There is no long-term, visionary thinking going on in this neck of the woods. It’s all about what makes for the best sound bite/photo op. like god intended. It would be pretty arrogant of us to assume we’d be around long enough to benefit from long range plans. Thank you for making the point.

  17. The new small green bins are definitely a step down. We used our large “beta test” green bin a LOT, and often had no problem filling it with just the two of us. Now, with a bin half the size, I don’t know how it’s going to work out.

    We have 2 compost piles as well for the garden. We compost a whole lot.

  18. Evolving Squid – a very faint voice in the deep recesses of my memory seems to recall that you can order a larger green bin container if you need it. That voice might be wrong, but I seem to recall reading this somewhere in the literature from months or years ago.

    – RG>

  19. It doesn’t start until 2010??? WTF?

    We are debating whether to use it or not. We’re sort of attached to our black bin the backyard. (And the roses and other pretty things like it.)

    Also Northwest Passage to Barrhaven made me guffaw…

  20. I have no illusions, all of Nova Scotia composts because it is cheaper, not because we’re more green (though I did find out we eat more strawberries than anyone else in the country, lucky us!).

    But it is dead simple, all kitchen and yard waste goes in the bin. Cardboard, wet or soiled paper go in the bin. Don’t throw your woodstove ashes in the bin or the garbage collector will scowl at you next time he sees you at the farmer’s market.

    Once we move our brains will be busy figuring out what to put in the bin versus our own compost bin, and the chicken’s feed bin.

  21. Geewits – Ah! You keep the bin in the house. Makes sense.

    Squid – We shall see. I predict “issues”. Interesting that they’re not starting the pick-up until the middle of winter when there are least likely to be issues with animals, smells, and lack of room in the bins for yard waste.

    Grouchy – I’ve looked through the online site and they very clearly say you CANNOT use another type of green bin because these are specially designed to fit the automatic lifts on the collection vehicles. So, you can clear that recess in your mind for new stuff.

    Nat – Hey, if your backyard composter is working for you, I think that’s a much better idea. I’d ask the city for a tax break since you’re not costing them anything for this program!

    Mudmamma – Well ya, politicians never do anything just because it’s the right thing to do. Every city also has its own rules about green bins. I think you all are allowed to compost things we aren’t.

  22. Personally, I think this green bin is a great idea.
    I mean c’mon people, how hard is it to add one more bin to your weekly garbage disposal? Think of it this way, we’re helping the environment in the long run. And that’s something we need to do whether you realize it or not.
    Composting is a great idea. We reuse things that would otherwise take YEARS to decompose in a landfill. Atleast this way everything is being put to good use.
    And kudos to the people who have already been composting, that’s great! and these bins arent even that big, so its not like you should have trouble storing it.
    I also agree they should start the delivery earlier than the new year, but heck, they’re busy people just like you and me. Like honestly, think of how many houses there are across Ottawa!
    And yes you do need to clean the bins once in a while, but they are going to sell big paper bags to put in there to reduce the mess.. just like normal garbage bags.
    I dont know. I’m for this movement. Just can’t wait to see how it actually turns out

  23. Jess – Hey, do you work for the city of ottawa by any chance? Of course composting is a great idea. I don’t think anyone is disputing that. But why not encourage back yard composting instead of the teeny green bin composting? So much cheaper. And please explain to me why it takes 3 months to deliver these bins.

  24. XUP – They have been encouraging backyard composting. My family got a City of Ottawa composting bin years ago. This is the next step (for example, I can’t compost facial tissues in my backyard).

    As for the timelines, the composting facility will be able to accept compost on a certain date. You work backwards from that to start distributing the bins. It is much more sustainable, especially from the employees’ standpoint, to have fewer employees working over a longer period (i.e. more stable employment) to distribute the bins than to hire a whack of students for a couple weeks to do it. Also remember that there are a LOT of households to cover.

    – RG>

  25. I didn’t say anything against backyeard compostiong, in fact i even said its great for the people who are! And no ones stopping you from doing both.. and no I dont work for the city of Ottawa.. just expressing my views. and 3 months because do you know how many houses are in Ottawa? like seriously?

  26. Grouchy & Jess – Okay, okay I surrender. All I was originally getting at was that it took Ottawa so very, very long to get the green bin program and the roll-out seems to be moving at the same snail’s pace. (And yes, I understand there are 200,000 bins being delivered – that’s about 3,000 per day) And I understand that sounds like a lot except that they manage to pick up garbage at all these houses every single week which I would think takes a lot longer than dropping off a bin.

  27. Yeah but they do pick ups ondifferent days and will have a million more trucks for that. why they dont have that right i dont know but oh well

  28. I have 2 backyard composters, but I still like this program. I can use the green bin for stuff I don’t put in the yard like meat scrapes and kitty litter, and it is very handy in the winter.

    Now garbage pickup can be reduced to once every 2 weeks, at least in the cold months, which will save everyone money.