a peek inside the fishbowl

16 Nov, 2009

A very long post from the compost queen of Westboro

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Ottawa|Yaktivism

I love composting. I really do. The process of turning my kitchen waste into high-grade soil for my plants is immensely thrilling and nothing short of amazing. Think of the science of that! All the happy worms! The free soil!

But it’s November now, and that means we’ve changed our composting routine.

  1. 1) We stopped filling our big black backyard compost bin on the first of October and gave it a good turn. About 10 days ago I emptied the whole thing into our flower beds and on patchy spots on the lawn in November.
  2. 2) From this point on our scrap vegetable matter gets dug into one of two open-air compost piles (which are somewhat enclosed by a wood and chicken-wire structure that Mark built)
  3. 3) We keep dry leaves in one of the piles for use throughout the year.

It is smart to keep meat and dairy products out of a backyard compost bin to avoid unwanted critters. If you want to keep smell and fruit flies to a minimum it’s best to layer your kitchen scraps (referred to as “green” composting material) with leaves (referred to as “brown” material). After you dump your bucket of compost, throw on a couple handfuls of dry leaves. If there’s a good balance there won’t be a smell.

We compost all year ‘round, even in winter, and that’s when a lot of people give up.

Because our big black bin is emptied every fall we just start filling it up again, even though it freezes. We keep a big bucket outside our back door and fill it with kitchen scraps. Every couple weeks someone is saddled with given the chore of taking it out to the kitchen composter.

I try to throw in a handful of leaves every time a bucket of compost is dumped into the bin (some people keep a bag of dry leaves in their garage for this purpose) but it’s not entirely necessary. Come spring, the bin heats up pretty quickly and kickstarts the process again. It works even better if you give it a good poke with a pitchfork. Composting is both an aerobic and anaerobic process, but turning it every once in awhile makes it break down faster.

Ottawa is finally rolling out an organics recycling program. We finally got our green bin the other day, which I am happy about – nay, excited about! – but I’m embarrassed that it’s taken Ottawa this long to get around to it. (This is part of an issue I have with the City of Ottawa on the whole. Ottawa is supposed to be a city of international renown, yet here we are, dithering about organics recycling, heritage buildings, public transportation, portrait galleries, public spaces (i.e Lansdowne: fill with condos, malls and movie theatres or turn it into something beautiful to be enjoyed for generations to come?) – I find it so frustrating and small-minded. Why can’t council be more forward-thinking and show some cojones? )

Anyway, I digress.

There are a lot of people out there who are complaining about this TEENY STEP FORWARD THAT WE HAVE FINALLY TAKEN. Some, for example, are worried about having a smelly bin in their garage. The trick is, really, to throw a layer of dry leaves over the exposed food or wrap them up in damp newspaper. The other trick is, well, to hose it out every once in awhile, just like you would your garbage can.

To those who find the whole idea of the green bin too unpalatable – think about this:

Almost half of the residential waste Ottawa produces is made up of organic material.

By composting (either with the green bin program or with your own backyard composter) you will help:

  • Extend the life of existing landfills.
  • Save taxpayers money. By extending the life of our landfills, we can delay sourcing and setting up new landfills – a very expensive proposition.
  • Reduce the amount of greenhouse gases our landfills generate by removing organic waste.
  • Turn waste into a usable product (compost) that enriches the earth instead of damaging it.

If you compost in your backyard you get the benefits of the product of your composting labour, a wonderful, nutrient-rich soil that can’t be matched. But the great thing about the green bin is that you can put things into it that one would not normally add to their backyard compost bin, namely, dog and cat poop (as long as it’s not wrapped in plastic – even the biodegradable kind), kitty litter, meat, food-stained paper wrappers, shellfish, leftover cooking oils, microwave popcorn bags, and more.

Basically EVERYONE in Ottawa will have something to put into the green bin. Even if it’s twigs and leaves and tissues. If you say you don’t you’re either lying, or you’re dead and you don’t actually buy or consume anything.

There are a couple of interesting Q & As uploaded on the City of Ottawa website, including these two that I was wondering about myself:

Q: Is the City of Ottawa green bin animal-resistant?
A: While no container will prove 100 per cent animal proof 100 per cent of the time, the City’s green bin does have a two-stage latch. While it’s possible for humans to operate with one hand, tests have shown this model of green bin poses a challenge for most four-legged creatures. For persistent critters, use a bit of menthol vapour rub around the edge of the lid.

Q: What will be done with the compost?
A: Under our contract with Orgaworld, they retain 90 per cent of the compost and the city retains ten per cent. Orgaworld plans on selling their share to the local Ottawa farming community. This same process has been successful in other communities to the point where they have more demand for compost than they can supply. The City will use its ten per cent for internal greening efforts and community-based tree planting and garden projects.

Q: Will residents have an opportunity to purchase the composted material once it has been processed?
A: Possibly. The City may allocate a portion of its share to compost sales or giveaways, which would be advertised to the general public.

Interesting, isn’t it?

I for one am holding onto my kitchen composters. I don’t want to give up my gorgeous soil.

I am, however, deeply annoyed with the City with their suddenly unveiling of a user fee (thoughtfully discussed by Zoom over here). Especially this point (to which I say, YEAH SISTAH!):

Why is the cost of the program being absorbed only by people with green bins? As I understand it, businesses, along with people who live in the country or in apartment buildings, would be exempted, on the grounds that they wouldn’t be using the program, and therefore not benefiting from it.

Green binners and kitchen compost gals like us are HELPING. Why should we be penalized for it?

All this aside, I am happy to do my share for the environment. Just don’t ask me to share my compost. We don’t have enough to go around.

8 Responses to "A very long post from the compost queen of Westboro"

1 | Stefania (formerly The Veg Next Door)

November 16th, 2009 at 9:14 am


The recycling program where we live isn’t that great but I’m happy to have something. We recently purchased the Nature Mill composter. It’s actually on my to-do list for the week to get it going.

2 | Meagan

November 16th, 2009 at 3:35 pm


I was really excited for this program to start. So excited in fact, that I actually started using my green bin shortly after it arrived – chances are, it wouldn’t be full by January – so great!

Well, between Thursday of last week and this morning, my green bin became unusable. Why? Because while raccoons don’t have thumbs, and so can’t open the lid, they sure do have teeth and claws with which to EAT a giant hole in the bottom of my green bin.

Exhibit A: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mgnphotography/4109563821/

I am MUCH less than impressed with this bin. Our garbage can doesn’t even look like this (and trust me, we’ve had it a lot longer than a week and a half).

My partner is calling the City today to see what is to be done about it. I certainly won’t be paying for the replacement.

3 | Chantal

November 16th, 2009 at 3:46 pm


Oh my goodness Meagan, that is terrible. I am glad that I can store mine in my garage but many people don’t have that option. And my understanding is that they only collect once every two weeks in winter…

Andrea, i wonder if Meagan wrapped her scraps in news paper if it would help. I put food in my backyard composter a few times a week all summer and have NEVER had anything like that happen.

I don’t dump my backyard composter till spring so mine is full. I would love to get my hands on a 2nd one so I could compost all winter but space is limited in my small back yard. I figured I would do food all summer in my own and then do food in the city one all winter. I LOVE my composter and my garden (almost too much, ask my husband). When I was burying the pumpkins in my garden a few weeks ago I was all excited about all the worms that were in there and I was talking to them (thanking them for being there) out lout. My hubby thinks I am insane (but loves me anyhow!)

4 | Mark

November 16th, 2009 at 3:56 pm


Meagan, that hole looks suspiciously squirrel-like to me ! Are you sure it wasn’t a squirrel ?

5 | Holy bin

November 16th, 2009 at 4:28 pm


Wow….that chewed hole is unbelievable. And I think you’re right Mark…those are squirrel teeth. I have stored compost in compost bins, regular garbage cans, wooden boxes and they’ve never been chewed like this. I’m guessing it’s the meat they’re after. Do you suppose the City didn’t both to test if animals would be motivated to chew up their nice green containers if someone put meat in them? That would be a disaster. Who is going to tell City Hall?

We’ve been composting for more than 10 years. It’s sometimes a bit “icky” to pop open the bin and get a face full of fruit flies but other than that..composting makes me feel GREAT and it’s an excellent lesson for kids. The compost goes on the flower and herb gardens in the fall and spring.

Thanks Andrea for 1) blogging on this subject and 2) digging composting. ;-)

6 | andrea

November 16th, 2009 at 5:44 pm


Wow Meagan! That’s quite the hole.

City of Ottawa recommends we use Vick’s Vapo-rub type goop to keep the critters away.

We’ll be keeping ours in the garage for sure!

7 | Meagan

November 17th, 2009 at 2:49 pm


As an update, after calling the City we were told that they would come around with a replacement (free of charge, but really not, since we pay taxes.)

They also told us about Vicks, and that the animals don’t like dog or human hair either.

Squirrel or raccoon or whatever, this bin is not pest proof (obviously). I understand that that would be difficult to achieve, but not everyone will get the news about the pest prevention (obviously, we didn’t until after the fact). I’m really curious about the “tests” these bins went through, because they certainly didn’t bring them to my corner of Westboro where, apparently, latched lids are not a problem. I should have just left the lid unlatched… at least our bin wouldn’t have gone to waste.

8 | Operation Garbage Reduction continues, and, I washed my Green Bin! >> a peek inside the fishbowl

June 17th, 2011 at 11:05 am


[…] long time ago I posted about composting and the green bin. I would like to take a moment to make some additional observations now that we’ve been using […]

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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