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The who, what, where and why of litter

What is litter?

Whenever waste is not properly disposed of, it is considered litter. Litter comes in all shapes and sizes and it can be found anywhere. It includes everything from a wrapper, a piece of paper, bag of garbage or even a cigarette butt.

Why do people litter?

  • Social Attitudes (littering is not as socially unacceptable as it should be!)
  • No perceived consequences
  • No waste container nearby
  • Complacency/ laziness
  • No sense of pride in the community
  • Not enough litter awareness

Who litters?

LitterBugs can be found among people of every age, gender, race and geographic location, at every level of society.

Scary Facts

  • A cigarette butt takes 15 years to decompose. Please put your cigarette butts in an ashtray or a butt stop. Cigarettes are litter and do not belong on the ground.
  • Every year, Canadian smokers toss away nearly 8,000 tonnes of butts.
  • Cigarette butts have been found in the stomachs of birds, dogs, cats, and squirrels.
  • Styrofoam cups and containers take up to 1 million years to decompose and cannot be recycled.
  • Plastic pop, water and juice bottles also take up to 1 million years to decompose but they can be recycled!
  • Please dispose of cigarette butts and litter properly!

Proper disposal is important! It is your responsibility!

We all need to generate less waste. That's the first step in reducing what goes to Ottawa's landfills. The next is to reuse and recycle more often. The following list describes decomposition times in a landfill and the proper disposal methods:
  • Newspapers - 6 weeks = Recycle (Black Box)
  • Cardboard box - 2 months = Recycle (Black Box)
  • Banana peel - 2 years = Compost (or put it in your Green Bin)
  • Cigarette butt - up to 15 years = Garbage
  • Plastic grocery bags - 100 years = Reuse or Take it Back!
  • Aluminium can - 200 to 500 years = Recycle (Blue Box)
  • Disposable diaper - 450 years = Garbage
  • Styrofoam cup - up to 1 million years = Garbage
  • Plastic bottle - up to 1 million years = Recycle (Blue Box)
  • Glass bottle - 1 million years + = Recycle (Blue Box)

Empty LCBO wine, beer and spirit containers (glass, Tetra, plastic and Bag in a Box) can now be returned to The Beer Store for a refund. For your closest return location visit


Why Should Business or Property Owners Care?

A dirty property attracts insects, rodents, and disease. It is also hazardous for small children, pets as well as customers!

It’s the law! Owners of private properties such as malls, homes, businesses and vacant lots, that have been identified as having a litter or illegal dumping issue are approached by By-law staff and given an opportunity to clean it up. If they do not, the City of Ottawa, under the Property Maintenance By-Law (By-law No. 2005-208) may do the clean up and charge the owner with the costs.

The last resort may come to laying charges. Under the Use and Care of Roads By-Law (By-law No.2003-498), the Parks and Facilities By-Law (By-law No. 2004-276) and the Property Standards By-Law (By-Law No. 2013-416) owners of private property, school boards, malls etc can be charged.

Do your part to keep your community clean!

Put litter where it belongs: in the garbage, in the blue box or black box, or in the green bin or composter.

Ottawa prides itself on being a clean, green, litter and graffiti-free city. Residents and visitors enjoy natural settings, an abundance of green space, plenty of parks and recreation trails.

But just like in any community, litter is an ongoing concern.

Keeping Ottawa clean and green is everyone’s responsibility. While the City does its part to keep the community litter-free, we need your help too!

Litter is a serious problem: It affects your health, the environment and the economy.

1. It affects your health

  • Broken glass and metal can be a hazard to children, youth and adults
  • Rotting trash contains germs and diseases, as well as attracts flies, maggots, rats, mice and seagulls for example

2. It affects the environment

  • Small litter items such as rope, nets and fishing line can suffocate or injure wildlife
  • Household hazardous waste, such as motor oil, can get into our rivers and streams and poison fish and wildlife
  • Litter can be washed into our storm sewers, which affects the water quality of our rivers and fish habitat

3. It affects the economy

  • Litter-strewn neighbourhoods can depress real estate prices, hinder economic development and inhibits visitors and tourists

What the City does to keep your community clean

  • During the summer, litter receptacles are emptied regularly by summer students called the “Bucket Beat Brigade,” who also collect litter in the downtown core.
  • Litter is cleaned off of City sports fields every week
  • Litter receptacles and streets receive particular attention during special events, such as parades and statutory celebrations
  • The City has various programs to encourage residents to maintain Ottawa’s beauty including Spring and Fall Cleaning the Capital, graffiti removal and our Adopt-a Park/Adopt-a-Roadway program all of which are free to participate in

What can you do? 

RETHINK GARBAGE. You can help Ottawa meet our goal to reduce, reuse and recycle 40% of our household waste. Follow some of these simple steps to help keep our city clean:

  • Don’t be a LitterBug! Put litter where it belongs – in the garbage, recycling bin, green bin or composter
  • Put your garbage and recycling out on collection day. Check the waste collection calendar for your collection day and make sure to properly package your materials for collection
  • Recycle as much as you can. Recycling is easy and reduces the amount of garbage in our land fields. Recycling is picked up on an alternating week schedule; black box one week (paper/cardboard), blue box the next week (glass/metal/plastic)
  • Donate clothing, household items and furniture to your local thrift store
  • Take it Back! Participating local retailers accept items that are not picked up by the City’s curbside collection including automotive parts and supplies, electronics, garden supplies, health-related products and supplies, and household products. Check the Take it Back! directory for retailers and a complete list of accepted products
  • Recycle plastic bags. As part of Take it Back!, the City has partnered with Metro to offer residents a plastic bag recycling program. View the full list of 19 Metro retailers and other participating businesses
  • Get rid of household hazardous waste properly. Corrosive, explosive, flammable or poisonous items contaminate water and landfills and should never be poured down the drain or put out with your regular garbage. The City of Ottawa operates several one-day Household Hazardous Waste Depots for residents to safely dispose of hazardous waste
  • Use your green bin or composter. Much of the waste we produce is organic and can be put to good use as compost
  • Leaf-and-yard waste is collected every other week between April and November on your regular collection day. When available, compost produced at the Trail Waste Facility can be bought by residents for a small fee. Call 3-1-1 (TTY: 613-580-2401) to confirm availability and cost
  • Show the LitterBug logo to remind others to put litter where it belongs. Contact us for your copy of the LitterBug logo
  • Organize a cleanup project as part of the City’s Spring and Fall Cleaning the Capital campaigns. Participants may request cleanup starter kits (available while supplies last) and are eligible to win prizes donated by campaign sponsors
  •  Participate in the Adopt-a Park/Adopt-a-Roadway initiative which is a citywide program that encourages community involvement in the care and maintenance of Ottawa’s parks and roadways. Participants are acknowledged with a sign displaying the name of the adopting individual or group at the adopted park or roadway, all of which is free

Is litter a problem in your area? Let the City know by contacting us:

By telephone: 3-1-1
By mail: Public Works Department
100 Constellation Drive, 5th floor,
Ottawa, ON, K2G 6J8