Waste Not

Photo: Chronicle Herald

Photo: Chronicle Herald

A few weeks ago I mentioned our city has a new garbage pickup system. It is getting stricter in an attempt to divert more waste from the landfill. And to force compliance. A few years ago Halifax had one of the best diversion rates, but it peaked and then slumped. We citizens were getting lazy.

Our municipal system is scheduled like this:

Every Week: Recycling pickup. Clean paper of all types in a bag (most people use plastic grocery bags). Corrugated cardboard tied in bundles. Blue bag full of cans, bottles, plastic containers, excess plastic bags, aluminum foil and plates.

Week 1: Compost pickup from the city-supplied wheelie bin. Food scraps, garden cuttings, twigs and branches, weeds. OK to buy garden waste bags and put out 20 of them!

Week 2: Garbage pickup. Allowed 6 big bags.

At our house we challenge ourselves to create as little consumer waste as possible, although we do recycle a lot. Reducing would be better. Sometimes we only put out one garbage bag every 4-6 weeks.

Garbage day attracts crows and sea gulls that pull apart the garbage bags to get food. All food is supposed to be in the compost bin, but a lot of people are not diligent. In order to keep the pests away (considering the garbage is picked up only every 2 weeks), it is necessary to rinse food containers, too.

In the new regime, which started August 1, we all have to use clear garbage bags. Anyone who doesn’t sort their garbage properly will have it left curbside with an educational notice saying why it was rejected. One black or opaque garbage bag is allowed for privacy.

I was not confident that my neighbourhood would be up for the challenge, despite the massive promotional campaigning that occurred. So what do you think happened?

The majority of homes reduced their garbage to just one bag and put it out in a dark “privacy bag.” Of the rest, they seemed to do a damn good job! I am very proud of my city for the Big Garbage Crackdown, and proud of my neighbours who are really making an effort.

The only chronic glitch I keep seeing is that people leave caps on their pop bottles and milk jugs and so on, which isn’t allowed.

As for me, these things have been sent to garbage so far:

  • cat litter (pine type, technically flushable but the city doesn’t actually want it in the sewer system)
  • tissues
  • nylon net bag from oranges
  • cereal bag (not accepted for recycling)
  • padded envelope from Amazon delivery
  • plastic packaging from Fitbit
  • worn out socks
  • empty toothpaste tube
  • used razor cartridge
  • dryer lint
  • caps from bottles
  • blister pack from meds
  • nasty cheese packet from KD (bonded paper and plastic)
  • latex paint scraped from the deck when it was repainted

I suppose I have little enough that I could use a privacy bag, too, and spare everyone the sight of the cat litter! But using a clear bag is motivating – I like the idea of reducing my garbage so much that there is nothing to hide.

Anyone out there who has tried to cut back or go Zero Waste – how is it going?



  1. Gemma Ptolemy

    I don’t recycle. It seems like a lot of work. I would be annoyed if I was forced to do it.

  2. Mel

    Dryer lint is great for starting fires if you have a wood stove or fireplace!

  3. EcoCatLady

    Hmmm… I find it fascinating that the city uses bags, not bins – seems like it could cause a mess, but the clear bag thing is interesting nonetheless.

    Here in Denver the city is slowly trying to get away from the big dumpsters in the alleys and is switching to individual carts for each home. It certainly has cut down on illegal dumping, and upped the recycling rate considerably (it’s voluntary here) but it is a pain to have to wheel the carts out to the alley on garbage day. Of course, the policies aren’t quite as enlightened as yours. We have to pay for compost service but dumping the same stuff in the garbage is free – grrrrrrr… (and yes, I’ve written numerous letters to the city council as well as the newspaper – the city claims they can’t afford to do it any other way.) We do have free recycling though, and it’s “single stream” so we don’t have to separate anything, which makes compliance soooo much easier!

    I tried to go waste-free for a while but it was just too hard. I composted all the kitty litter (separately, of course, and only used it on ornamental plants) but it was a huge pain. So now I toss the kitty litter and that’s about it. Vacuum cleaner stuff & drier lint has to be tossed, as well as some kinds of plastics that can’t be recycled – that’s usually all that’s in my garbage.

    BTW – tissues are accepted in the municipal compost here…

    • I thought about composting the cat litter on site too (in my own yard) but wasn’t really up for it. Our municipal composting program will take a moderate amount of tissues but if they see you have too much paper in your bin, they will reject it. So I carefully put in as much as I can get away with. And try to use handkerchiefs!

  4. You wouldn’t (you probably would) pleased I am to hear this report! I love that people need ‘modesty’ in their waste – i mean, seriously. Women of a certain age menstruate, babies poop, hair balls are ugly.

    As an Aussie I’m still amazed you don’t have ‘wheelie bins’ but allowed to put trash in bags on the kerb (and for that, the guy who blogs about things he finds in the garbage, thank you, and awesome work). But it seems you have issues with birds. In Japan, they have a communal thick net, and they put it over the collection for what I assume is a street (too narrow and annoying for the truck too I suppose).

    I’m so glad to hear others are, for whatever motivator, minimising what they put out. That is awesome.

    We’re certainly having a lot of worn out socks – after much darning. Blister packs are a constant here, very few bottles of prescriptions sadly. Food tarnished plastics go in trash now, the rest to the RedCycle bin for recycling (which i forget to remember, but never do I ‘give up’ as they can last, they don’t get stinky). My cotton buds end up in landfill, but i feel better that they are cardboard tubes which will at some stage decompose. I’d compost if it wasn’t another other step – mainly for the cleaner who despite my guidance, puts all trash into the kitchen bin and doesn’t take it out. I feel like I’d be too weird to ask her not to empty ANY bins! But perhaps I should try, right? Cause the hair balls and cotton buds could be composted with the food I take to the compost bins on the kerb. I’ll stop now – you know my waste reducing interests!

    • People can buy their own wheelie bins to put out their trash, but you still have to use garbage bags inside the bin. It does keep the birds out. Some people also throw an old sheet or tarp over their garbage bags, and they just get left behind on the curb for next time. I would be very frustrated with a cleaner who would not follow my instructions to sort the garbage and recycling! Rom cuts his own hair and it gets composted 🙂

      • EcoCatLady

        We are required to use the wheelie bins (provided by the city) because the trucks have these grabber arms that lift and dump them without a human having to be involved unless it gets knocked over. You can only put stuff out in bags on “overflow day” which is maybe once a month or so. I guess they decided fancy trucks were cheaper than hiring people to heft the bags… not sure if that’s a good thing or not!

      • I don’t know why the city didn’t hire a contractor with the “mechanical arm” type garbage trucks; I can only imagine they didn’t want to pay for the wheelie bins for every resident!

  5. We recycle. Our recycling bins – one for garden, one for plastic – are twice the size of the general bin. If we didn’t recycle we wouldn’t fit everything in the one bin. I too find it strange that you use bags rather than bins. I wouldn’t want to see the rubbish in clear bags. But I would also hate to have the rubbish being ripped open by animals. In Australia bins are picked up by a machine on the side of the garbage truck. The driver never has to get out of the truck. Recycling and rubbish are all in wheely bins.

    My household still has too much plastic but I’ve reduced it. Eg stopped using cling wrap for lunches years ago and use plastic containers which have lasted for over 6 years.

    Can’t see myself getting to zero waste. I’m too much of a shopper.

    • Our recycling pickup is all automated but the garbage isn’t – strange. Maybe the city won’t spring for the cost of the new bins needed for each property. (More likely, the company that they contracted with to pick up the garbage doesn’t have the trucks with lifts on them. They use a different company for recycling pickup.) I have reduced plastic as much as possible but it is still the perfect thing for some uses. Like you, I pack lunches and snacks in plastic containers. I can carry one or two glass containers but any more than that is too heavy for my backpack!

  6. Fiona

    I’m also surprised at the bags! I think in Australia, Magpies and other birds would tear the bags apart. We have tall, rectangular plastic bins with wheels for all our waste. As Lucinda says, everyone leaves them kerbside and a garbage truck collects them with a mechanical arm.

    We have an 80 litre landfill bin that is collected from each home every week. Ours is usually just partially full, a shopping bag or two in size.

    Then we have a 240 litre bin for recyclables. Nothing has to be sorted – paper, plastics, metal all go in the one bin and are sorted at the other end. We also have a 240 litre bin for green waste (garden pruning, branches etc.) Recyclables and Green Waste alternate each week in collection.

    Just a quirky aside, but I was intrigued when we were overseas by the differences in (1) rubbish collection and (2) letterboxes. In London, houses everywhere seemed to have letter slots in the door – how convenient! Here in Australia, a kerbside mailbox is standard!

    • Yes, the rubbish left out in plastic bags and in piles in London looked so messy and unhygienic. As did the massive skips (dumpsters) on street corners.

    • I wish we had garbage bins, too. I could write a whole post about mailboxes! I have a superbox which is a communal set of mailboxes at the end of the block. People in the older areas of the city have delivery right to their front door. This is now being taken away and they are being switched over to superboxes. The outcry!

      • Fiona

        Wait – there’s another alternative to door letterbox slots (London) or freestanding letterboxes (Melbourne)? I want to see a photo of a ‘superbox’!

      • Ha ha; it looks like I will be doing a post, then 🙂 They look the same as a post office box but they are in a rugged housing and installed along the side of a street. People stop and pick up their mail on the way home from work (or walk out to get it.)

      • Fiona, we called them cluster or group mailboxes when I lived in a townhouse community. Basically the post office had the key to open one side (to deposit everyone’s mail) and the home owner had a key to the other side (to access their mail). Mine looked like this:

        I also lived in a town where mailboxes were prohibited. You had to purchase a post office box within the post office to have your mail delivered.

  7. Fiona

    I just thought of another odd memory. All my teenage years when we lived on the farm, there was no garbage collection available since it was a rural area.

    We used to load all our garbage on the back of the tractor each week and dump it all in a small gully down one of the back paddocks. As each section was filled in, we’d bury it. How odd – our own private landfill!

    • When I was a kid, our family moved out of the city onto a rural property, where it was not easy to take garbage up to a busy street to be picked up. The previous owners of the house burned as much garbage as possible in old oil drums, and buried some. We’d find remnants of it popping up years later!

    • EcoCatLady

      When I was a kid the suburb we lived in didn’t have municipal trash service, so you had to contract with a private company (I think it’s still that way, in fact.) Anyhow, my dad was WAY too cheap for that, so once every few months or so we’d load up the pickup truck and haul everything to the landfill – I thought it was the most fun a person could have!

      I wonder if people’s ideas about garbage would change if they actually had to haul the stuff to the dump themselves, and got to see that it doesn’t just go “away.”

      • I have had that experience too – my dad used to take us to “the incinerator,” and I took my kid to the recycling centre (before I lived in a place with pickup). Very kid-pleasing activities 🙂

  8. Dufferin County in Southern Ontario had the same system, and it worked fine. I moved to Simcoe County and they don’t and I see more garbage out, plus they don’t recycle plastic bags which I find annoying. Dufferin County like where you live have a better system.

    • I have to remember not to take plastic bags at stores any more. I used to use them for cat litter but now you’re not allowed to nest bags inside your clear garbage bag, unless it is your privacy one. They can be recycled, but I am really trying not to take too many!

  9. Well, we cut out the bought water bottles and eat tons of leftovers, but need to do far better.

  10. hi Dar – yes I am still around but mainly working all hours! I am at work now and just tucking into a salad accompanied by a cheese and onion pasty – both cellophane wrapped and salad in a plastic bowl – both not recyclable. I should really bring my own lunch from home which would solve the waste problem but time is tight at the moment.
    Our cottage garden had evidence of years of rubbish dumping -I still dig things up on parts of the garden I haven’t done before. I have uncovered about 6 teapots so far!
    I think that the next step for your garbage collectors must be to reduce the size of the privacy bags so that people can’t hide their ordinary rubbish after all how many private items can a person have in a week! Recycling here is such a messy uncoordinated affair where different councils have different approaches to rubbish collection and recycling.

    Many things can be composted though like hair, dust from the Vacuum cleaner, tissues, woollen socks, brown packaging including cardboard and I believe cat litter will compost on the garden. I try to avoid anything in plastic but it gets harder especially when some manufacturers switch from glass to plastic.

    Interesting post as always. Hope you all well. Viv x

  11. I am as surprised as everyone else that you don’t have bins! No wonder the animals have so much fun! We have curbside recycling and trash pick up, and choose to compost in our backyard. Most weeks the only trash that goes out is 1-2 grocery bags of cat litter and waste. How will you dispose of your cat litter? I guess the clear plastic bag?

    I made a lot of changes years ago to cut back on trash and have mostly just maintained those since. And we plan to use cloth diapers on the baby (once they weigh 8 pounds/3.5 kg or so) which will reduce our trash 🙂

  12. You did fantastic with your trash, I can’t say many could compare to the little you and Rom put out. I have been seriously frustrated with the garbage pick up where I live now. The cost was one at $52 for two months I was pretty much paying that for one bag of trash. Now my neighbor, seeing how little trash I have allows me to put my bag,, when I have one in her can.

    The company contracted to pick up our trash requires that all garbage must be in a bag as the men must pick it up. But I’ve noticed there is nothing they don’t take. Yard waste, furniture, anything can be set out and it will be taken straight to the landfill! We don’t even have the option of recycling here because the between the town and the company contracted say it’s too expensive.

    So what do I do? Well, the trash goes to my neighbors can, in plastic as required. The recycling is set aside and set home with my son or his wife to set out with their recycling. and food is composted.

    My garbage this week was outrageous!! I had a house guest who chews (chewing tobacco). He also drinks a bottle of soda or more a day. So he arrived with a case of soda in plastic bottles then proceeded to fill each empty bottle with his tobacco which meant they had to go in the garbage instead of the recycling. At one point I snapped and asked him why he had to ruin every bottle because he only uses it to fill an inch or two then gets another bottle. He said because it stinks after a while.

    • Have to say I would not be having that guest in my home no matter how nice a person they were, or even if they were a relative!

      I admire your dedication to recycling and composting when they are not supported by your pickup system. It’s great that your neighbour allows you to piggyback, which should not put them out much since you are so low-impact.

      PS Sorry to hear about your chair woes.

  13. My husband is very competitive about garbage–he tries to put out our bins only once a month or so. Most people around here produce a lot of garbage (shocking, in fact–I often pick things up to take to charity shops). Perhaps I should send him to Canada to see how the “masters” do it.

    Garbage is very regulated in Germany, I’ve been told. Many categories. Our airbnb hostess told us we would be excused as foreigners. Too advanced for us!

    • I admit to being competitive too! Most people here, when discarding something “good,” will put it out early the night before garbage pickup and it’s understood people can help themselves. If not taken, “pickers” usually drive around in the early morning hours and take things for resale. Everyone likes this.

  14. Great idea!! We love to do our bit and I know Mr Luke isn’t quite as diligent as I am so I really do think that this would help!

  15. And here lies my passion.
    Here in Austin, Texas if you recycle anything in plastic bags you “contaminate” the whole load and your recycling will then become garbage headed for the landfill, the city just doesn’t have the man power to open each bag and sort the recycling like that, also stretchy plastic like that from bags, is a bit harder to recycle and it is then needed to be recycled separately and differently. Also, 6 trash bags? That’s a lot.
    So, I’m wondering… would you be interested in starting a compost? I live the suburb life but you can still buy compost for all size homes and situations, you just through your scraps in there and when soil is made… give it away if you don’t want to use it, or return it to Mother Earth 🙂 The number one thing that is in our landfills across the World? Food!
    I hope you have a great upcoming weekend,
    I’ll talk to you soon,
    Tammy x

    • Here, to my surprise, we actually do have human beings inspecting the recycling and municipal compost and sorting/decontaminating it to some degree.

      The city picks up compost in big wheelie bins that you bring to the curb. You can put in all food waste and garden clippings except grass which has to remain on your property. So I am not too motivated to compost in my own yard, except for grass and leaves which do make good compost. I am quite passionate about not wasting food!

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