Anyone who knows me well knows that walking is part of my daily routine. Every morning, before starting work, I take my dog and baby boy for a stroll around the neighbourhood. And every night, after supper, the same thing. While I haven't walked as much since my son was born in January, I still try to get out atleast once a day.
One thing I've always noticed while walking is the amount of litter strewn all over the sidewalks, streets, and ditches. Spring time is always the worst. From empty cigarette packs to gum packs, cigarette butts, take-out food containers, socks, car parts, you name it... there is litter everywhere.
One day in April, while on one of my daily walks, I walked by a few beverage containers that had been thrown on the ground and decided to go back and pick them up. Within ten minutes, I had picked up enough to fill up a grocery bag. After doing it for three or four days in a row, I realized that it was becoming sort of an addiction, so I challenged myself to see if I could do it for 30 days. Thirty days later and I have yet to finish a walk without a full bag of garbage.
It’s amazing how much litter you can pick up in less than an hour. I only stuck to my neighbourhood, picking up litter within a 1 km radius of my house, and after 30 days, I collected a total of 940 single-use beverage containers, the majority of which were plastic water bottles. Tim Hortons cups were another big one.
The amount of litter I see is overwhelming. It angers me. It saddens me. And it’s easy to get a bit down about it all and think, “What’s the point?”
I'm not naïve. I know that, despite my efforts, there will always be litter. I know that whatever elation I feel at doing a good thing is tempered knowing there will be more garbage to pick up tomorrow and the days after that. I know this because I walk the same streets every day and there are new containers on the ground that weren't there yesterday. We live in a throwaway society where most people don’t think twice before throwing something in the garbage, or on the ground for that matter. It’s become part of our culture.
It's easy to get obsessed and depressed about it all (and I do). It's easy to want to give up, especially when a group of kids sees what I'm doing and throws their Starbucks cups on the ground right in front of me (yes, this actually happened). It's easy to convince myself that I'm wasting my time, because after all, I'm only one person, in this big great world, so how can I make a difference, right?
But when I get home and see everything I’ve picked up, I know I’ve made a difference. Even though it may be just a small action, it is still doing something. And doing something is always better than doing nothing.
I decided to focus on beverage containers for a couple of reasons, one being the fact that Ontario is one of the only provinces in Canada without a deposit-return system for non-alcoholic beverages, and I want to raise awareness of this. If Ontario did have a deposit system, I can guarantee you litter would be reduced significantly. Believe it or not, beverage containers represent one of the largest portions of litter by volume.
My initial goal was to do this for 30 days, but now that 30 days is up, I don’t think I’ll stop. After all, the litter-bugs haven’t seemed to take any time off so I won’t either.
I’d like to challenge everyone reading this to pick up a few pieces of litter each day, for the next 30 days. Simply add a bag and glove to your daily walk and pick up litter when you see it. Forget about feeling weird and just do it. One bag on its own may not seem like a big deal, but if everyone took the time to collect one bag, it would make a huge difference.
Be sure to take pictures of what you pick up and then share it on social media, and hopefully you’ll inspire someone else to do the same. Maybe one day it will be second nature for people to clean up litter they see instead of simply walking past it.
Click here to join the 30 Day Litter Pickup Challenge Facebook Group
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