Earthub: Really recycling recyclables

Christine Aubry

Earthub is a relatively new initiative that was launched in January 2019 by University of Ottawa civil engineering graduate Brittanny Belanger (EIT, C.E.T., LEED Green Associate).

Belanger, an avid recycler, often shared her eco-knowledge with friends and family: “A lot of people asked ‘how do you know all this?’” she explains. That got her thinking about how she could use her engineering and science expertise to launch a website that would raise awareness and share information.

Belanger says she is very skeptical about recycling programs. According to her and supported by a 2019 study published by Environment and Climate Change Canada, only 9% of what Canadians put in the blue bin is recycled. Even then, the process of doing so is costly and energy-consuming.

That’s why Belanger tried, in vain, to convince her pharmacy to re-use her own pill bottles for her prescriptions. Her search for a better alternative to recycle these bottles led her to Matthew 25: Ministries, an Ohio-based international humanitarian aid and disaster relief organization, that accepts and reuses clean pill bottles. Belanger realizes that shipping the bottles produces its own carbon footprint, but she says it’s still better than using new bottles while old, perfectly good ones may end up in landfill.

Belanger then started thinking about what else could be reused. During her daily COVID walks, she noticed how many egg cartons were in black recycling boxes.

Earthub’s “Items to Keep Out of The Landfill” program grew from there. Via a series of Earthub bins, volunteers collect a variety of items from their neighbours to be reused or recycled in vetted specialty programs. Belanger says she has done her due diligence to ensure that everything collected by Earthub is used as claimed by each organization or program.

The Earthub program now has a dedicated volunteer coordinator managing six official chapters and almost 150 Earthub locations. Among one of its many waste diversion achievements, the program has sent 40,000 clean, reusable pill bottles to Matthew 25: Ministries.

I decided to host an Earthub bin here in Sandy Hill after seeing a call for volunteers on Facebook from Ottawa-Centre team lead, Erin Ladouceur, who lives in Lowertown.

It was Ladouceur who investigated a closer location for bringing empty egg cartons and found the Partage Vanier food bank on Marier Avenue. Most food banks receive eggs on large cardboard palettes and need smaller cartons to send home with clients. Reusing egg cartons is not only eco-friendly but cost-saving. The food bank also appreciates Earthub because they receive one large shipment they know has been quality-checked.

Belanger knows that being eco-friendly can require significant upfront costs. In 2021, she started the Earthub ecoStore (only available in Ottawa for now), where she sells affordable cleaning materials, personal hygiene products, and mesh shopping bags. Belanger calls herself a terrible businessperson because she does not profit from her endeavours. “I want zero-waste products to be as accessible and cheap as possible,” she says. “That’s what makes me happy.”

Belanger plans to expand on the education and awareness-raising component of Earthub once she obtains her Professional Engineer (P.Eng.) designation. She wants Earthub’s drop points to remain completely free and run entirely by volunteers. That has made it challenging to move forward with her many ideas. “Most need money and funding to implement, so it’s difficult,” she explains. Undeterred and clearly passionate about the cause, she hints that there are exciting announcements coming.

To obtain the address of your closest Earthub bin (including the one in Sandy Hill), email your location to environment@earthub.ca. All Earthub drop-off locations are volunteers’ homes, so addresses are not made public.

The items accepted for collection depend on your location and only clean items should be dropped off. If you have questions, Earthubers are more than happy to help. For example, the best way to neatly remove the label off a prescription bottle? Leave it in the freezer overnight!

To learn more or volunteer, email Belanger at: ottawa@earthub.ca. You can also help Earthub cover shipping costs or expand further by donating via e-transfer to accounting@earthub.ca And if you are on Facebook, please like and share the Earthub page and help spread awareness.

Sofia Barrette dépose des boîtes à oeufs, des attaches en plastique et des bouteilles à pillules dans le bac Earthub sur l’avenue Blackburn pour qu’elles soient réutilisées.
Photo: Christine Aubry