by Stéphanie Stewart
The Glebe Community Centre put out a green bin this fall.
While this mundane event may appear unremarkable, in fact it signified the first of many changes envisioned and brought into practice by Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna’s Constituency Youth Council to the Glebe Community Centre (GCC).
You see, up until the first green bin was put out this year, the compost produced by the GCC’s three kitchens (the gcCafé kitchen, Glebe Neighbourhood Activities Group (GNAG)’s main kitchen and the multi-use “servery” kitchen) was tossed into the garbage with everything else.
When Selina Neve, one of the youth council’s ambitious members, first approached me about this initiative, she had just completed the design of a proposal for a greener Glebe Community Centre. The plan included efficient use of green space, an updated recycling program, a community garden and use of Ottawa’s green-bin program, among other ecologically sound undertakings. The first goal was the green bin.
Full disclosure: I saw a lot of barriers. Sure we had lots of compost to contribute to green bins, but there was no bin, nor was there a truck pickup destined for our site. I had more questions: If we ever did have bins installed, who would manage them? How would pickup be organized? Would all players be on board to help? But my reticence was no match for Neve and her fellow council members’ dedication. Instead, these keen and future-focused young people perceived no insurmountable obstacles. A greener community centre was a concrete and highly achievable goal.
Armed with Neve’s proposal and their focused objective, the council got to work. McKenna’s Youth Council is not only named for the Environment and Climate Change Minister, but is actively backed by McKenna herself. “An amazing part of the Youth Council is that we have direct access to not only our riding’s MP, but also the Minister of the Environment who admirably takes time out of her busy schedule to meet with us regularly. This is a very special and unique relationship that makes the process of meeting with our MP and Minister a lot less daunting,” says Neve. And with that, the next thing I knew, we had a meeting set up with all the players involved, including a City of Ottawa green bin officer who a few hours later returned with our large green bin and supplemental black and blue boxes. Our first pickup took place the following Wednesday morning, simple – as – that.
So why hadn’t we done this sooner? As it turns out, we are among many other public facilities that don’t use Ottawa’s green-bin program. According to Neve, other facilities can model their efforts after ours and this project can jumpstart a change at Ottawa’s public facilities.
Public spaces can be hot spots for messes. We see it all the time in our community centre too. There is anonymity in crowds that can enable carelessness. Garbage and dishes collect, and managing these messes can be burdensome. Often the cleanup tasks fall on a few people and that can be taxing. Is it easier to just dump everything into one big garbage bin and ignore the obvious gap in our waste management? Sure, but the Youth Council is not about to take any shortcuts when it comes to making Ottawa a greener city. And the added effort on everyone’s part absolutely is worthwhile.
I spoke with Constituency Youth Council founder Catherine McKenna in the week following our first use of the green-bin program. McKenna echoed the drive and ambition of her Youth Council members and highlighted their ability to see opportunities for change overlooked by others; people who like me see barriers first. McKenna and City Councilor David Chernushenko put some well-deserved weight behind the youth’s mission to deliver a better waste management system for our community centre. They succeeded swiftly and efficiently. McKenna spoke of how our community’s youth are not only our future leaders but are in fact leaders already. “These young people can be a great example to us,” she stated matter-of-factly. I couldn’t agree more. “The Youth Council noticed a problem,” she continued, “and turned it into an opportunity for change.”
When the GCC put out our inaugural green bin this fall, we planted the seeds of change for a greener Ottawa. We at GNAG and the gcCafé are thrilled to be inspired by our young leaders and as such are on board all the way for more changes toward a greener and more ecologically conscious community space.
Stéphanie Stewart, a chef by trade, oversees the GNAG culinary and nutrition programs at the GCC and is general manger of the gcCafé.