Waste reduction and education

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Quick Tips to Reduce Waste

Refuse

  • Buy less.
  • Avoid unnecessary packaging and individually wrapped items.
  • Say no to non-recyclable plastic items like straws, clingfilm or styrofoam.
  • Stop buying so-called “convenience food” like pre-packaged meals.
  • Create a shopping list before hitting the grocery stores and stick to what you really need.
  • Instead of using coffee pods, try making coffee or tea the traditional way.
  • Swap paper towels for washable cloths and rags.
  • Choose liquid soap or powder over dishwasher and laundry detergent pods.
  • Use dryer balls instead of dryer sheets.
  • Support restaurants that use recyclable take-out containers.
  • Choose to go paperless for your bills, receipts & documents, for example your water bill or property taxes.

Reduce

  • Plan weekly meals to reduce food waste.
  • Take inventory of your fridge and pantry, so you are mindful of foods and leftovers that need to be eaten soon.
  • Growing your own vegetables helps reduce packaging and energy costs associated with shipping fruits and vegetables globally. You can even do it with limited space, e.g. on a balcony.
  • Consider shopping in bulk or at zero waste food stores to save on packaging.
  • Use reusable cutlery, dishes and glassware.
  • Borrow or rent items as opposed to buying something you may only use once, for example at the Ottawa Tool Library.
  • Try and purchase quality clothing that will last, avoid fast fashion.
  • Buy rechargeable batteries.
  • Use reusable bags, bottles, cups and containers while out and about.
  • When making a purchase or disposal decision, consider the most environmentally friendly option.
  • Save all your refundable cans and bottles to be returned.

Reuse

  • Shop at second-hand stores.
  • Give your household items and furniture a second life by donating them to thrift stores or local charities.
  • Regift things you don’t need or swap them with others.
  • Always attempt to repair before buying new.
  • Use old documents as scrap paper to write notes or lists.
  • Keep boxes and shipping material like bubble wrap for the next time you need to mail a parcel.
  • Save gift wrap and bags for another occasion.
  • Reuse food packaging materials such as bread clips and elastics.
  • Join a digital trading, swapping, give-away platform or community group, for example there are many for all purposes on Facebook.

Repurpose

  • Get creative and use items found around the house for crafts, e.g. create funky bracelets from plastic bags, lampshades from broken umbrellas, room dividers from CDs, even coffee tables from old windows.
  • Use empty glass mason jars as vases, candle jars or to store food in.
  • Good at sewing? Upcycle and turn any bland piece of clothing into an eye-catcher.
  • Make bird feeders out of plastic bottles.
  • Turn old clothes into household rags to replace paper towels.
  • Save and wash empty containers (e.g. yogurt containers, ice cream containers…) to use as household kitchenware.

Recycle

  • Participate in the City’s recycling and composting programs to help divert waste from the landfill.
  • Make an effort to recycle all plastic containers used around your home, including shampoo and laundry detergent bottles.
  • Check out the City of Ottawa's Waste Explorer to find out how to dispose of your household items properly.
  • Most household items can be taken back for reuse or recycling to more than 575 retailers in the Ottawa area. Visit the Waste Explorer for a retailer near you

Interested in finding out more?

Invite the Public Works outreach team to give a presentation about Ottawa’s green bin and recycling programs to your school or community group. All presentations are subject to audience size and outreach team availability.

Waste Reduction Tutorials

Getting into the holiday spirit doesn’t need to increase your waste footprint. Watch our former summer students Cayla and Alexa decorate a home and wrap presents in a sustainable way.  

DIY Decor for the Holidays

When you work with items found around the house, a little imagination and creativity can go a long way in giving your home a festive look! 

Visual: Craft items, including scissors, a hole punch, a hot glue gin, chop sticks and toilet paper rolls, are displayed on a kitchen counter.

Decorating for the holidays doesn’t need to be expensive or wasteful, after all many decorations can be made with items found around the home.

Visual: A woman cuts a toilet paper roll into strips and then uses the hot glue gun to stick the folds together in the middle. She adds extra pieces inside the first rolls and around them, then pulls a string through one of the outer pieces.

Use toilet paper rolls to make festive snowflakes. Simply cut the roll into 5 pieces, and hot glue the edges of each piece together to make a circle. Attach a string to hang it up.

Visual: A person cuts a cone shaped triangle from a brown piece of paper and folds it from bottom to top into an accordion. She then punches a hole through the middle of the stack puts a chopstick through the holes and pulls out the fold, turning it into a fir tree shape.

Use leftover paper to make decorative trees for the holidays. Cut a triangle from the piece of paper and fold this triangle back and forth in an accordion shape. Using a hole puncher, punch holes down the center of your triangle, in every row. Weave a chopstick through the holes to create a tree!

Visual: A woman places the paper tree on a mantelpiece and hangs the snowflake on a small Christmas tree.

A little bit of imagination and creativity goes a long way in making your home greener for the holidays!

Sustainable gift wrapping

Use recyclable or reusable options when wrapping gifts to be thoughtful towards loved ones and the environment at the same time. 

Visual: Roll of wrapping paper, gift bag, cloth, string and newspaper displayed on kitchen island.

Over the holiday season, choose recyclable or reusable alternatives when wrapping gifts for loved ones.

Visual: Person folding newspaper around book and taping it.

Newspaper, paper bags and reused gift bags can all go a long way in dressing up that perfect gift.

Visual: A book being wrapped in sparkly silver paper, marked with a red “X”. The same book being wrapped in giftwrap without sparkles, with a green check mark.

If you do choose to buy gift wrap, select plain paper products. Sparkly and shiny gift wrap cannot be recycled, so make the switch to plain colours and patterns.

Visual: A festive coffee mug being wrapped in transparent plastic, marked with a red “X”. The same mug being covered in a cloth dish towel, held together with a fabric tie, with a green check mark over it.

Most importantly, skip the plastic foil this holiday season. Why not try dish towels, flowerpots or cloth bags as a wrapping option instead? By the way, string is the new ribbon!

Visual: A woman removing items from a gift bag then folding the dish towel wrapping from the mug and placing it on the flattened gift bag.

Wrapping presents doesn’t need to be wasteful. It’s easy to make this holiday season environmentally friendly!

Want more all-season tips? Just follow our former summer students Cayla and Alexa to the kitchen, the closet and the supermarket – they’ll meet you in the videos below! 

Making the most of your food

Food waste... scratch that! Plan ahead before grocery shopping so you only buy what you really need. Don’t neglect your leftovers either; they turn into sweet and savoury treats.

Visual: Woman standing in kitchen, writing on a piece of paper.

Reducing food waste is simple when you plan ahead.

Visual: Walks to refrigerator and opens it, then closes it.

Stick to a list and use food you already have.

Visual: Woman carrying red, fabric bag walks to the refrigerator. Puts new yoghurt container behind one that’s already in fridge, does the same with berries. Then throws a lemon into a countertop kitchen- container used for organic waste.

When putting away new groceries, place what’s already in your fridge at the front that way eating it first is made a priority.

Visual: Rotten bananas, morphing into baked bread in glass cookware. Plain noodles in glass container, morphing into a pasta dish with chickpeas, feta cheese, cucumber, and tomatoes.

Transform what’s still edible instead of throwing it out. Turn your ripe bananas into banana bread, and use your leftover noodles to make pasta salad!

Visual: Woman opens fridge. Pulls out maple syrup bottle and tips it to see level of liquid inside.

Be sure to regularly check how much food is left in your jars and bottles.

Visual: Woman walks to kitchen island and writes on paper.

That way you are mindful of what you have the next time you hit the grocery store.

Visual: Woman closes refrigerator doors. Pasta dish and banana bread sitting on kitchen counter.

Food waste is a simple thing to avoid, as long as your mindful of what you have and take inspiration from recipes.

Upcycling your style 

Staying trendy doesn’t have to be expensive or wasteful. Try these fun clothing DIYs and outfit ideas to spruce up your current wardrobe!

Visual: Woman walks into closet, turns light on. Picks up dress on hanger and holds it in front of her.

Clothing styles come and go but look no further than your own closet to stay trendy.

Visual: Blue t-shirt spread out on wooden floor. Next, t-shirt is tied up with elastics in a bathtub, getting sprayed with a liquid from all sides.

Dye dull, faded, or stained clothes to brighten up your look. Or try reverse tie-dye and let bleach transform that bland blue t-shirt into a piece of art.

Visual: Blue jeans spread out on wooden floor. Next, jeans are being cut with scissors and being perforated with tweezers.

Cut old jeans into shorts or distress denim with a disposable shaving razor or tweezers.

Visual: Grey shirt with scoop neckline spread out on wooden floor. Scissors cutting across shirt halfway down. Woman rolls excess t-shirt fabric and puts it in her hair to tie it back.

Make an old shirt feel new by cropping it. The leftover fabric can be used to make an accessory to pair with your new outfit.

Visual: Jean jacket spread out on wooden floor. Woman using an iron on an iron board to attach a patch to the jacket.

Iron-on patches give your denim jacket a fresh new look.

Visual: Clothes spread out on bed. Blue polo shirt matched with jeans, beside a pink tank top combined with a beige, plaid shirt. A person swaps the blue top for the pink top.

Not really into DIY? Swap clothes with friends or pair pieces from your closet together in a different way.

Visual: Two women twirl and smile. One is wearing the blue t-shirt with pink bleach stains, the other one the freshly cropped grey top.

Stitch before you ditch - upcycling tips that will revive your wardrobe into closet staples. Get crafty Ottawa!

Saying good-bye to single use plastics 

Single use plastic items are not cool, reusing everyday items is the way to go. Jump on the bandwagon and try some of these simple swaps to shop and live sustainably. 

Visual: Raw chicken breasts on a Styrofoam tray wrapped in plastic on a kitchen counter, surrounded by Styrofoam and plastic containers, plastic bags, a plastic water bottle and plastic cutlery.

Single-use items contaminate the environment and take up precious space in the landfill. Consider these simple swaps to live and shop sustainably.

Visual: Woman walks down stairs and grabs a small, white fabric bag and a bigger red, fabric bag. Opens front door and leaves home.

Get into the habit of bringing your own reusable grocery and produce bags when going shopping. Keep them handy so you're ready to bring them along with you to the mall or the grocery store.

Visual: Raw chicken breasts in Styrofoam packaging on kitchen counter, marked with a red “x”. Meat wrapped in butcher paper with green check mark.

Shop mindfully and support brands with less packaging. Try to ditch the styrofoam and choose recyclable materials.

Visual: Ziplock bag and plastic wrap on kitchen counter, marked with a red “x”. Beeswax wrap and reusable food container with a green check mark.

Replace plastic wrap and sandwich bags with reusable containers or bees wax wraps.

Visual: Woman filling a metal bottle with water from kitchen faucet.

Fill your reusable water bottle with tap water!

Visual: Small white fabric bag and a bigger red, fabric bag on kitchen counter, pictured with beeswax wrap, reusable food container, metal cutlery, metal water bottle and meat in butcher paper.

Your choices matter – limit the amount of garbage that ends up in the landfill.

The environment will thank you.

Keeping Objects out of the Landfill

You have many options when looking to divert waste. Many materials can be reused, recycled or donated to charitable organizations.

Start by searching the Waste Explorer for a list of participating local retailers that accept items not picked up by the City. These include automotive parts and supplies, electronics, health-related products and supplies, and hazardous household products.

You can also give items away... Give Away Weekend has transitioned to give away all year long! This is a great opportunity to help others while keeping household goods out of the landfill.

There are also multiple websites dedicated to selling, buying, swapping and giving away used and/or unwanted goods (please note: These organizations do not accept hazardous household products). This includes (but is not limited to):

Please note, these groups are external to the City of Ottawa and you must abide by their terms and conditions.

Do you know of another resource dedicated to diverting waste? Please contact the Public Works outreach team with the information to have it added to the list above.

Finally, the best way to reduce waste is to avoid creating it: refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose and recycle when you can!

Zero Waste Challenge

Take the first step towards a more sustainable life and challenge yourself and your family to bring down the amount of waste you’re creating. Reducing your ecological footprint is surprisingly easy. All you need to do is print out the pledge sheet and decide on a pledge for each day of the week. You can either come up with your own ideas or choose from the list below.

Today I pledge …

  • To only buy what I need and know I will use.
  • To bring my own bags and produce bags when I go grocery shopping.
  • To refuse any single-use plastic items or packaging.
  • To plan out this week’s meals in advance along with a specific shopping list.
  • To cook all my meals homemade.
  • To not create any avoidable food waste.
  • To make coffee or tea at home instead of buying it in a single-use cup.
  • To keep all empty cans and bottles to be returned to stores.
  • To mend or repurpose a piece of clothing I don’t wear.
  • To donate an unwanted item to thrift stores or charity.
  • To transition from paper to online subscriptions.
  • To make an effort and throw out all my organics and recyclables in the green, blue, and black bin.
  • To look up any item I am unsure about on the Waste Explorer.
  • To try and not use anything that ultimately has to go in the garbage.
  • To turn off the water when not using it for more than a couple seconds.
  • To encourage as many people as possible to participate in this challenge with me.

Household Waste Diary

A waste diary is an effective way to understand your own recycling and disposal habits. Participating in this simple activity will show you what and how much of which material you throw out during an average week.

Print out the waste diary table and record everything you put in each of your bins over a one-week period. Don’t forget to count what goes into the garbage cans in your bathroom, bedrooms, laundry room or at your desk. If the whole family gets involved, each member can fill in their own table.

At the end of the week, look at your complete table and reflect on your findings.

  • How much garbage did you create?
  • What waste categories do you produce the most of? The least of?
  • Did you put recyclable/compostable material in the garbage? Or vice versa?
  • Which items were commonly misplaced? Not sure? Check the Waste Explorer to find out where an item belongs.
  • Was there an item that did not go in any of the bins? What did you do with it?
  • Did you throw out any items that could have been reused, repurposed or donated?

Being mindful of ways to create less waste and taking full advantage of the City’s blue, black, and green bin programs is good for the environment. It helps reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere and protects our natural resources. It also extends the life span of our Trail Road landfill site.

When in doubt about what to do with an item, consult the Waste Explorer.

Recycling Activity Book

Learn more about Ottawa's waste diversion programs through fun games and puzzles in our downloadable activity book!

Picture of the Recycling Activity Book