Written By: Derek Ochej, Kingston, Ontario
Public awareness campaigns about littering have been around for a long time. Keep America Beautiful, the group that started the ‘don’t be a litterbug’ campaign, formed in 1953 to combat the problem of highway litter. (Fun fact: tobacco giant Philip Morris was one of the founding members of Keep America Beautiful). The 1980s saw the famous ‘don’t mess with Texas’ campaign, which greatly reduced highway litter in the Lone Star State. In Canada we may not have campaigns with super-catchy slogans, but we do have campaigns like Love Your Lake.
The goal of Love Your Lake is to complete 100 litter collection ‘adventures’ over a 10-week span this spring and summer. The area of focus for Love Your Lake is the shoreline of Lake Ontario. As you can imagine, litter has a great impact on the health of lakes, which provide many benefits to Ontarians. Not only are the lakes a great source of enjoyment for sports and recreation, the lakes provide the drinking water for many communities situated on its shores (including my hometown, Kingston!). Litter is not only ugly and spoils the beauty of our lakes; it has a serious impact on the health of the ecosystems of the lake, municipal infrastructure, and our own health.
Events like Love You Lake are great in that they encourage Ontarians to take ownership of the protection of our lakes (the word ‘your’ is in there for a reason), and that results in real, and positive, change. That being understood, of even greater importance is making sure we act out solutions that prevent the problems of litter in the first place. To that end I propose one obvious solution and two not-so-obvious solutions:
Obvious Solution: pick up litter outside of special events like Love Your Lake. I’m not saying you need to go all out like this Vancouver gentlemen (although if you want to, please do so!), but every little bit helps. Try and pick up one piece of litter every time you are out and about. If everyone does just a little bit it will make a huge difference.
Not-so-obvious Solution #1: help prevent your recycling from becoming litter. We all want to do our part and recycle, but it doesn’t help when poorly packed recycling boxes spill their contents. If you live in a community that uses carts or covered boxes, you are pretty much set. If not, put lighter recyclable items on the bottom of your box, with heavier items on top. Don’t overfill your box. And if it is really windy on recycling day, don’t put your recycling out overnight! Your municipal website likely has lots of great tips to help prevent your recycling from becoming litter.
Not-so-obvious Solution #2: avoid buying/using products that become litter. Plastic bags are great example, but one you might not think of is microbeads. These are little bits of plastic that are present in many facial scrubs, cosmetics and liquids soaps. Designed to help exfoliate skin, these tiny pieces of plastic are wreaking havoc on the environment. Their greatest impact is to bodies of water, where they devastate marine life, which often confuse the brightly coloured bits of plastic for food. And while one tiny bit of plastic might not make a difference, billions upon billions being flushed into waterways, bypassing sewer treatment facilities, really adds up.
To solve the problem of litter, let’s focus on downstream and upstream solutions at the same time (see what I did there…). For downstream, participate in events like Love Your Lake and other community clean ups; for upstream solutions, try and stop the sources of litter by properly packing your recycling boxes, and avoiding the use of products that often become litter. Solving the problem of litter from both ends will ensure the preservation of lakes for future generations, and give them the opportunity to love their lakes as well.
"Derek Ochej is a professional public servant from Kingston, Ontario. After having spent almost 10 years working in the municipal waste management field, he recently shifted to a temporary role working for the office of the city clerk in Kingston. Despite the shift he maintains a personal passion for environmental stewardship. When not working, or writing about environmental issues, he enjoys tending to his Little Free Library, and hiking with his wife. You can read more of Derek's blogs on his LinkedIn page, or connect with him via e-mail."