Garbage? What Garbage?

In 2000, Jo-Anne and Hugh Robertson of Ottawa made a pledge to each other to send as little garbage as possible to the landfill. It took them three years to fill a large garbage bag. But that one bag was awfully heavy, so they decided to switch to much smaller bags and put them at the curb a bit more often — every six months.

Compare that to the average Ottawa household, which sends just under one metric tonne (2,200 lbs.) of garbage to the dump every year.

The couple have long been keen recyclers, but they say they’re fairly ordinary people who didn’t have to change their lifestyles very much to dramatically reduce their household garbage. But how did they do it?

  • First of all, the Robertsons put whatever they can in their City of Ottawa Blue Box and Black Box for recycling. That includes paper and cardboard, and plastic, glass and metal containers.
  • They also compost all fruit and vegetable peels, garden waste and leaves, layering the material with soil and twigs. Hugh digs the nutrient-rich compost into the garden every spring, where they grow vegetable and herbs.
  • They have a mainly vegetarian diet, but do eat some chicken. Since animal products can’t go into the compost bin, Hugh crushes the chicken bones buries those in the garden along with the compost, but deep enough that they won’t attract animals.
  • The Robertsons use their own shopping bags for groceries and bring their own containers to the health food store for refilling.
  • The City of Ottawa Blue Box program no longer accepts plastic bags, but when the Robertsons end up with any, Jo-Anne brings them to a friend who lives in a community that does recycle them.
  • Most other household items that wear out or are no longer useful get recycled or reused.
  • Worn out tea towels and shirts become rags, while good used clothing gets donated to charities.
  • Plastic yogurt containers go to a homeless shelter for reuse.
  • They donate old furniture to places that can use it or to the Salvation Army.
  • Plant containers go back to the nursery, while pieces from broken clay flowerpots go into planters to help drainage
  • They bring empty printer cartridges and old computer equipment back to the stores for recycling. When their old TV bit the dust, they returned it to the store to be recycled.
  • Toxic wastes, such as paint, batteries and medicines are dropped off at special city depots.

So what does end up in the Robertsons’ garbage? Mostly crinkly plastic food packaging, mesh onion bags, a few empty ballpoint pens,.broken light bulbs, sponges, rubber gloves, metallic candy wrappers and a few other broken and discarded household items that can’t be reused or recycled. He compacts this garbage as much as possible by pulverizing it with a sledgehammer.

To find out what materials can and can’t go into a City of Ottawa Blue Box, please click here.

For Black Box does and don’ts, please click here.

To learn where you can recycle a wide range of other items, including cars, electronics, garden supplies, construction material, health supplies and other household items, please click here.