Solid Waste & Recycling


Bin Talk

In Ottawa, citizens volunteers are utilized to provide promotion and education and assist their fellow residents in the city in taking the next step in waste diversion: foodscrap separation and collection.

In Ottawa, citizens volunteers are utilized to provide promotion and education and assist their fellow residents in the city in taking the next step in waste diversion: foodscrap separation and collection.

One of the cornerstones of Community Based Social Marketing (CBSM) is the use of community members in the promotion and education of programs to their brethren. The growing availability and use of social media, in this particular example YouTube, offers an excellent opportunity to execute this component of CBSM.

Potentially harnessing free labor is a compelling opportunity for a municipality. To simplify a bit, imagine one per every hundred residents participating in just the two hours or so to learn to give a presentation. Then, each of these same one in a hundred give presentations to just 33 people; the whole community would be covered, for little or no cost. Better still, as this information comes directly from a fellow citizen, the information will be more believed and trusted.

The challenge in automating such “viral” information sharing is creating the information in a format that allows ordinary people to access it (i.e., download) and present it effectively.

Sierra Club Canada (SCC) developed such a program in order to assist the City of Ottawa in the introduction of it’s Green Bin program. What’s neat is that the materials can be adapted by other communities to promote their diversion programs with CBSM.


Like most other cities, an audit of Ottawa’s waste stream revealed that 45 per cent of what remained after curbside recycling was organic material. Therefore, in order to increase its diversion rate above 30 per cent, Ottawa (Canada’s fifth largest city) introduced foodscrap collection to 235,000 single family homes in January 2010.

Getting residents to participate fully was the challenge, and this is where Sierra Club Canada (SCC) stepped in.

SCC is part of the larger Sierra Club organization based in the United States that was founded in 1892 and is possibly the oldest and largest ENGO in the world. SCC has had an extremely active waste diversion campaign led by myself. The SCC submitted a funding proposal to the Trillium Foundation. Trillium uses the proceeds from the Province of Ontario’s lottery and gaming activities to foster a mission of “Building healthy and vibrant communities by strengthening the capacity of the voluntary sector through investments in community-based initiatives.”

The project aimed to use funds to recruit and train (and in so doing empower) citizens in Ottawa to give five-minute Green Bins talks (Bin-Talks for short) in their places of work or worship, schools, clubs, associations, groups, etc.

The idea was that an interested person simply logs onto the Bin-Talk site and views a five minute video (as often as needed to to feel confident in their ability to present the same material). Also on the site, in downloadable form, is a copy of the Powerpoint presentation and a full written copy of the content of the video, plus as a set of key-point cue cards. With these tools and practice, anyone can give this presentation anywhere in the city. The purpose (obviously) of the material (and in particular the Powerpoint) is to assist presenters in staying on track and on message, while providing audiences with both an video and audio means of learning about Ottawa’s Green Bin program.


The five minute video focuses primarily on the ease and benefits of foodscrap diversion. Central to Sierra Club Canada’s position on the ease of diversion is the use of a prop. Constructed of a cell phone, bean can and plastic banana bolted together, the intent of the prop is to remind people that the items they buy aren’t all together but in fact were purchased and consumed separately. The simple act of keeping those same things separate at the time of discard is all that’s required for successful waste diversion.

Residents are further reminded that their kitchens generate only two waste streams: food and the packaging that it came in.

The benefits to the city, of course, include conservation of valuable landfill space and the production of a soil amendment product. The educational talking point is “feed the land, not the landfill.”

It would have been nice to add a critical message about methane generation from foodscraps buried in a landfill, and also about the insanity of burning fooscraps for energy (since organics are 70 to 80 per cent water), but there was some political resistance to this. (Ottawa’s mayor is a supporter of the Plasco plasma arc gasification project currently being piloted in Ottawa.) So this information was removed at the request of the city.


The recruitment efforts were extensive. Project leaders asked every city councilor, MPP and MP to post a link to the Bin-Talk Ottawa site. A similar request was made of the many environmental organizations in the city as well more than 140 community groups.

Another area of effort was churches and various religious organizations. Posters were sent to every Anglican Church and an e-version was sent to United churches (24), Pentecostal (20), Lutheran (11), Baptist (9), Latter Days Saints (5), and Synagogues (9). For the thirty Roman Catholic churches, I was able to make a ten-minute presentation for a “Pastoral Day” gathering of over 100 Church officials. These were then asked to forward information on the Bin-Talk program to their parishioners.

Most interesting was the interest generated by the 70 Toastmasters groups in Ottawa. When you think about it, the program makes perfect sense for Toastmasters, since members are interested in practicing and improving they speaking skills. What better way tha to give a Bin-Talk five to ten times, and in so doing attain skills in pace, cadence and humor.

In Ontario, as in some other provinces, students must perform 40 hours of community service in order to graduate from high school. The Bin-Talk program is thus promoted to Ottawa-area high schools to help students fulfill this requirement.

To view and downlaod the Sierra Club Canada social marketing materials for the City of Ottawa, visit SCC wishes to thank The Ontario Trillium Foundation, Bag to Earth and Sure-Close for their generous support of this project.

Rod Muir is the Founder of Waste Diversion Toronto/Canada and is the Waste Diversion Campaigner for Sierra Club Canada . He can be reached at

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