Trash – it's been in the news a lot lately. Overflowing garbage cans in our parks, plastic pop bottles washing up on our shores, fast food packaging littering our trails. Trash is everywhere, and while we can shrug our shoulders and blame others, as was pointed out by the organizers of a new community cleanup event during their presentation to council on Monday, littering is just part of the problem.
Not every coffee cup, newspaper, or food container found on a sidewalk or in a park playground is the result of irresponsible people littering, some of it was in a blue bin at the curb before the windy weather blew some of it around, depositing bits of paper and plastic in places we'd rather were neat and tidy.
The community cleanup being planned for Saturday, May 5 is a fantastic idea, and it would be fantastic to see the initial event become a stepping stone to more frequent community cleanups and heightened awareness about the evils of stray trash generally.
As was pointed out in a feature article published by the CBC this week, much of the trash that we let float around our communities ends up in our waterways, where it gradually decomposes and becomes a threat to wildlife when consumed.
I doubt there's a community anywhere that isn't concerned about wayward trash. Over in Europe a new fad called 'plogging' combines jogging with picking up trash along the route. It might seem gimmicky, but sometimes gimmicks turn out to be effective and they catch on to the point that it becomes the norm. While I don't envision joggers lugging trash bags around with them around these parts any time soon, I do every now and then see residents stopping to collect trash from the streets or sidewalks, so anything is possible.
Tidying up a community is a daunting task for a small handful of individuals, but with an army of volunteers much can be accomplished. Organizers of the new community cleanup event are anticipating up to 300 volunteers will participate, and if they get the turnout they are hoping for, this community should be looking pretty spiffy on May 6. Should the event become a regular feature, perhaps even twice each year, I think we'll find less accumulation of trash in the nooks and crannies of our community as each year passes. At least that's been our experience at Memorial Park, where we at The Independent along with the Friends of Memorial Park have hosted an annual park cleanup as part of Earth Week. In the early years the pile of trash bags (and air conditioners, furniture, and rolled up carpets) was enormous. After the first few years of annual cleanup events, there was less and less trash to be collected, allowing time for volunteers to focus on other things like digging up invasive species like garlic mustard, or planting new trees.
Why have we see less trash in the park each year? I think in part because in the first few years we were unearthing trash that had collected for a number of years prior to the first cleanup event, but I think also, if you have a clean area, people are less likely to mess it up by tossing their coffee cup on a trail, or leaving their fast food bag on the ground for the animals and wind to disperse. I suspect we'll see a similar result with a general community cleanup should it become a regular event.
The committee that has initiated this event has taken what I consider to be a fantastic approach by enlisting the local service clubs and volunteer organizations, and I think that the community groups have been wise to buy in. What better initiative to bring together all of the various organizations in the community for the betterment of the community? As far as events and initiatives go, it's simple, it's cheap to undertake, and the results will be easily seen and measured. And after all, we have collectively made the mess, why not collectively clean it up?
In the coming weeks we can expect to see Baggy, the new mascot for the community cleanup initiative, on notices posted in the windows of local businesses and in promotional materials released by the municipality. Curmudgeons like me might bristle at cute, cartoonish characters like Baggy, but the fact is that these kinds of campaigns tend to raise awareness, which hopefully will translate into a large number of participants and enough momentum to hold such events as often as they are needed.
Best of all, this is an initiative driven not by municipal staff or council, but by our friends and neighbours. They have volunteered their time for the Economic Development Advisory Committee's first impressions working group, which has seen a problem with a relatively simple fix, and they've mobilized to do something about it – all they're asking for is a few hours of our time, which doesn't seem too much to ask.