These eco-friendly organizations are leading local grassroots efforts to make the city a greener place
For Brittanny Belanger, it all started with prescription pill bottles.
“A couple of years ago, I had some mental health issues, and I was taking five daily medications,” says Belanger. “I didn’t want all these plastic pill bottles to go into landfill, so I started asking pharmacies if they could be reused for my own medication.” The answer she says, was always no.
Some said they would take them back, but they wouldn’t reuse them. “I started trying to find organizations or agencies that might take them, and I finally found one,” says Belanger. “Matthew 25 Ministries does disaster relief, and they would take the pill bottles to be reused as medical supplies.” After posting a photo about the pill bottles on social media that reached over 140,000 people, she realized that people were into reusing and recycling. The LEED — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — certified engineering technologist, who went on to found Earthub, not only sees the issues firsthand, she has the background to share the knowledge. Belanger says her family was frugal with material things because they spent money on travel. “I learned from an early age that the faster you used stuff, the more you need to buy it,” says Belanger. “And a good lesson for kids and parents these days is what I grew up with — repurpose, reuse and reduce.”
Earthub has been an inspiration for the Eco West Enders in Stittsville. “We’ve been inspired by what Brittanny has done with the pill bottles,” says Eco West Enders founder Karen Swerdfeger. “We help with upcycling not just the pill bottles, but other items as well.” Its focus is on sustainability, education, advocacy, and community events. Although many of the events were paused due to the pandemic, but Swerdfeger says they are bringing some of them back this spring. “We’ve got a couple of things in the works,” she says.
Eco West Enders has partnered with another organization to do Blossom Fest, where kids can decorate their bikes with upcycled items, and hopes to bring back its Pumpkin Parade — where people donate their pumpkins from Halloween so farmers can re-use them as livestock feed — in partnership with the Stittsville Village Association this November.
“We had over a thousand pumpkins that were reused for feed and composting,” says Swerdfeger. “It was a great community event, and we want to inspire other groups and communities to do something similar.” A website is in the works and people can find Eco West Enders on Facebook for events and initiatives.
If Halloween pumpkins can be repurposed for livestock feed, then why can’t food be donated back to the community? That’s exactly what Foodsharing Ottawa focuses on. “We rescue about 3,500 to 4,000 pounds of food every month,” says Caroline Wilcox, operations leader of Foodsharing Ottawa. “That’s a lot of food that can be redirected to where it’s needed in the community.” The organization works primarily with businesses and grocery stores who are willing to donate surplus food including ‘ugly’ fruits and veggies. Inspired by a similar organization in Germany, Foodsharing Ottawa has volunteer drivers who pick up the food and deliver it to charitable and community organizations. “Even large grocery chains are getting the message and selling ‘ugly’ and ‘eat tonight’ items at reduced prices,” says Wilcox.
Families can help, too. Wilcox suggests looking through cupboards at home and donating viable canned goods that won’t be used, and volunteering with the organization. “We love getting younger volunteers on board,” says Wilcox.
Rochelle Johnston of Family Earth says that if nothing else, this pandemic has created more opportunities for families to get outdoors and rediscover nature. “Last summer, we had so many families come out to enjoy our experiences,” she says. “It was a way to get together but still protect vulnerable individuals, like grandparents.” Located in Ingleside, Family Earth is committed to getting kids outdoors and enjoying nature through experiences like campfire cooking, gardening workshops or art with nature that are not only fun, but educational. The experiences at Family Earth are designed to be entertaining, but they also create an understanding of nature and why the environment must be loved and cared for.
Composting was big in the 1990s, but for some people, not very appealing. “I can understand why vermicomposting kind of turned people off,” says Akil Mesiwala, founder of The Box of Life.
“Who the heck wanted an ugly plastic box under the sink full of worms? Even if it was a really good way to deal with waste food.” What started as an experiment for Mesiwala turned into a full-time job. “I’m surprised and delighted how many people have a rekindled interest in composting worms,” says Mesiwala. “They really are easy to take care of if you treat them properly and it’s a great way for kids to learn about microbes and how composting works.” Not only that, but he also says that the byproduct the worms create is one of the best nutrients for garden plants. “So you’re not just getting rid of your organic waste, but you’re giving back to the soil in your garden. It’s a nice circular system.” Mesiwala provides all the support his customers need, and he keeps it easy. He’s also working to get his Box of Life worm boxes into school classrooms. “Composting worms is a good science lesson and could be used as a learning tool,” says Mesiwala. “It’s also a valuable lesson in sustainability.”