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Going for Green

I find it next to impossible to keep on top of the recycling in our house. The box in the study always seems to be overflowing with cardboard, junk mail, and little bits and pieces of paper. The blue plastic bin in the back porch, earmarked for plastics and tin, seems to instantly fill up, as does the blue plastic bin on the shelf below it, the repository for refundable beverage containers and glass products.

NOTHING FEELS BETTER TO ME THAN SLIPPING ON my big winter boots, and emptying these containers into their larger outdoor counterparts – light and dark blue recycling bins in the front, and assorted containers to separate cans, bottles and cartons out in the little shed in the back.

When I reflect on the days when all of this refuse would have ended up in the landfill, I shudder. Thank goodness we’ve evolved in terms of how we handle waste. Back in my dad’s day, on the farm in Saskatchewan, they would dig a hole in the bush, and that is where they would put the garbage. As a kid growing up in town, everything went to “the nuisance grounds” - as my dad called it - that we couldn’t trade at the grocery store for cash. That pretty much covered everything except for pop and beer bottles.

We’ve gotten to the point as a family, that our black bin (for non-recyclable garbage) has only two or three small kitchen catcher bags in it at the end of the week. The dark and light blue ones are often full to the brim.

On our kitchen counter is one of those green Lee Valley compost containers, which gathers organic waste like vegetable clippings, coffee grounds and various other food castoffs. When it is full, I once again pull on my big winter boots, trudge through the snow in the back, to empty its contents into one of four black compost bins.

Almost 10 years ago, I designed and built an open-air compost bin exclusively for grass clippings and leaves. It works miraculously well, needs next to no maintenance, and produces an annual batch of black loamy soil that gets added to our raised garden in the back.

Sure, there are frustrations. Our boys go through a large container of milk every three days or so. And while they are great about rinsing them out when they are empty, they are less diligent about squishing them down to a smaller size. After six months of consumption, or about 50 of these large plastic containers, space is in short supply.

I struggle with the recyclable beverage containers as the thought of making the journey to the recycling depot fills me with dread. The new one is pretty spectacular and clean, but finding the time to go there is a real challenge. So, until the shed in the back become completely untenable, the cans and bottles just keep piling up.

I’ve often thought that a good non-profit venture would be to do a recyclable collection service. I’d happily contract with a voluntary organization to collect these on a regular basis. Over and above the money they would get at the depot, I would happily make an additional donation for the service.

We’ve adapted well to the single use shopping bag bylaw in Fort McMurray. Heather and I have different preferences, which means there is a shelf full of reusable bags for her and a spot for those reusable foldable box contraptions for me. We rarely, if ever, get caught at the till without our bags or boxes anymore. In fact, when we’re shopping in the big city, and they start putting our purchases in a plastic bag, we feel downright awkward.

“No need for a bag,” I often say. “We don’t have those back home.”

We used to have reams and reams of plastic grocery bags: under the sink, stuffed in closets, and various other places. We used them in waste containers as collection bags, but we just couldn’t keep up. Now, we buy a 100-pack of kitchen catchers and it lasts us six months – no mess, no fuss.

I still get frustrated by certain things, like huge volumes of junk mail that arrive and go directly from the mailbox to the recycling container. It seems so wasteful and stupid. But overall, we’ve successfully integrated recycling, composting and solid waste reduction into our lives, to the point that we don’t even notice it anymore.

Russell Thomas writes a regular blog at and can be followed on Twitter @rvthomas67.


Russell is a 19 year resident of Wood Buffalo, a community builder, facilitator, social media practitioner, actor, director and artist. He began his Middle Age Bulge blog as a way of capturing his journey to wellness. It has morphed into a daily journal about all aspects of life in the north. Russell works with The United Way of Fort McMurray and co-owns Birdsong Connections with his wife Heather.