Yesterday I met with a group of friends to participate in the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup. Our group of 6 people picked up trash for 2 hours and these are the amazing results:
- 570 food wrappers
- 1,074 takeout containers, cups, lids, bottles, cans, and utensils
- 432 plastic bags and pieces of packaging
- 1,120 pieces of tiny trash (1 inch or smaller)
- 19 bags of trash (91 Kg or 200 lbs)
- Additional furniture, construction waste, and large items totalled another 113 Kg or 250 lbs
- Total items picked up: 3,592 pieces of trash
- Total trail length cleaned up: 2.2 KM
The most interesting items we found were a VHS cassette entitled The Ancient Secrets of the Erotic Arts, an expired Visa card, a bullet, and a car cigarette lighter.
We concentrated on the area of the Trans Canada trail from Bridgeway at Skeena to the Second Narrows Bridge, as this industrial area seems to attract a lot of litter and dumping. We also did the gravel lot immediately to the west of the junction of Bridgeway and Skeena, and a light pick-up on the trail all the way to Willingdon. Check out the before and after photos. My East Van Pickers gang members found the concrete, visible results very satisfying. Not bad for a couple hours on a Saturday morning! Thanks, gang!
Part of Something Bigger
We had a lot of support from the Keep Vancouver Spectacular program, which provided pickers, safety vests, gloves, garbage bags, and buckets. They picked up the full garbage bags immediately after the event. I’d like to thank Riley and the other folks at the City of Vancouver who helped support our event.
I’d also like to thank Katie Rodgers, who hosted the cleanup event at this location in September 2013. The way you laid the groundwork, you made it very easy to follow in your footsteps. Thanks, Katie!
And thanks also to the folks and organizations at the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup. Local sponsors are the Vancouver Aquarium and the Vancouver branch of the World Wildlife Fund. Nationally, the program is sponsored by Loblaw Companies Limited. And this group is part of a larger effort, the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup. Data that we collected at our event goes all the way up the chain to provide information for global initiatives to reduce garbage at the source.
Shoreline Cleanup Fast Facts
The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup is one of the largest volunteer efforts in the world.
- Over 50,000 Canadians participate each year
- We clean over 3,000 KM of shorelines (equal to the distance from Vancouver to Thunder Bay, ON)
- Over 110,000 food wrappers and containers are removed every year—the amount one person would produce by having takeout 3 times a day for 100 years. Wow. That’s a lot of people littering.
What’s with the Dog Poo?
One of the most bizarre items we picked up was dozens of little bags of dog poo, neatly tied in a knot. We puzzled over how a person could take the time to pick up after their dog, doing the right thing, and then toss the bag into the woods, doing the wrong thing. What is the psychology of this? My friends came up with the theory of situational morality. Dog owners pick up the feces either because someone is watching, or because they actually feel bad about leaving poo on the trail. But then when no one is looking, they throw it in the woods, rather than walk another 100 metres to the garbage bin, or carry it home to throw away there. Grow up, people! We don’t need our tiny remaining amount of green space filled with little bags of dog poo.
Why Do People Litter?
This is the bigger question. Not why do people throw away the little bags of dog poo, but why do people litter at all? I confess, I used to throw away cigarette butts. I am probably responsible for thousands of butts on roadsides around the province. I had a technique for flicking the butts, and I thought I was pretty cool doing it. It seemed like an invisible item, that tiny cigarette butt. I had no awareness of how it makes the landscape ugly for people who come along after me.
So I imagine that littering is like this. People are not aware of the impact it has. There is a momentary relief of being free of a burden. Just tossing it away. Feels good, right? I noticed that around the park benches, there was a lot of trash just a little bit into the brambles, as though people didn’t want to see their litter, and thought if it was a few feet off the path, it wouldn’t bother anyone. So this indicates some awareness, some concern for appearances, and perhaps a lack of awareness of the bigger picture, that those bushes a few feet away are worth caring about too.
So to help increase that awareness, here are some factoids about the impact trash has on wildlife:
- Trash can travel great distances: a plastic bag can blow away and wind up in a waterway, entangling wildlife. This can cause long-term injuries and even kill the bird or animal.
- Trash can persist in the environment for many years. A plastic bottle can take up to 450 years to break down. But it just breaks down into smaller pieces, which wildlife eventually eat. The law of the conservation of matter: nothing ever disappears.
- Eating littler can lead to choking, poisoning, and even malnutrition among wildlife.
To find out more about the impact of shoreline litter, see the GCSC Learn More page.
Change Starts with Action
Number one thing you can do to reduce waste in the landfill, litter on the trails, and unnecessary strain on our planet’s limited resources:
DRINK WATER FROM THE TAP
That’s right. Pretty simple. Something you used to do as a kid, right? Bottled water is a Coca-Cola and Nestle marketing scam. Don’t fall for it.
Vancouver’s water is the best in the world. It collects naturally from rainfall gathering in the mountains and streaming to the Seymour Reservoir. The City of Vancouver lightly treats it with chlorine to remove harmful organisms. If you don’t like the chlorine, use a water filter.
Other things you can do:
- Put your garbage in the trash can.
- Buy less stuff.
- Organize a garbage-less lunch day at the office one day a week.
- Recycle, compost, and reuse as much as possible.
- Donate items to charity or sell them on craigslist.
- And for items that you really can’t get rid of any other way, take them to the dump and pay the fees. Don’t leave them in the bushes so that other people have to come along and clean up after you.
Thanks again to my awesome friends for coming to help clean up my favourite running trail. Hundreds of people use this trail every day for commuting by bike, running and jogging, and recreational enjoyment. Lots of people thanked us as we were working, and it was a great feeling to know that we were making this trail a more beautiful place for everyone to enjoy.