waste watchers

In two hours before the rain could return Saturday afternoon, Waste Watcher volunteers had gathered 5,540 pieces of trash, 1,066 cigarette butts and three syringes from Owen Sound's east shoreline. And yes, they counted them.

DumpsterStyrofoam, broken glass, food wrappers, coffee cups, beverage bottles and cans as well as pieces of clothing and unidentified plastic made up most of the trash. Large items like eavestroughing, a plastic chair and a piece of a toilet were carried back to the dumpster (thank you Miller Waste) on a bike trailer (thanks Bikeface!) Some tires and rusted metal barrels were buried too deep in the frozen shoreline to be removed.

City councillor Carol Merton was filling her third canvas bag when she said “I had no idea there was this much garbage here.” She carefully removed two of the syringes, and we spoke about safe sharps disposal in the city. She and councillor Scott Greig attended the "Talking Trash" social after the pick-up to learn what more we can do about our waste.

In the social following the pick-up, Rochelle Byrne of A Greener Future said that in some communities syringes, condoms, and tampon applicators are not thown away where they were found, but have been flushed down toilets and then entered the water in a sewage bypass at the treatment plant during a heavy rain. Byrne said styrofoam breaks off docks and bouys, and even properly disposed of waste can be blown around or picked out of receptacles by birds and animals. 

Reducing the use of non-degradable and single-use materials is the primary goal.

Recycling has high energy and resource costs. The higher the number in the triangle (and usually darker the colour) on a recyclable material, the more difficult and energy consuming it is to recycle, and often the smaller the market for the end product. "Recycling is a for-profit business," she said. "Just because you put it in your blue box doesn't mean it will not end up in landfill."

Byrne participates in trash pick-ups all along the Lake Ontario shoreline. She is currently working on the “Butt Blitz”, an annual Spring event that aims to remove as much cigarette butt litter as possible from the environment. Volunteers pick up the non-degradable cigarette butts locally and they’re sent to TerraCycle Canada for recycling. Yes, recycling! - into plastic benches and industrial pallets. It is not about smoker-shaming, " Byrne says, "It's about keeping this material out of our water and wildlife."  Access to public disposal containers, she said, helps smokers change their habits and dispose of their butts responsibly. 

Byrne and her husband Mike had spent the morning at tTalkin trashhe Owen Sound Farmers' Market, selling reusable and low-waste items from produce bags to bamboo cutlery and toothbrushes, and speaking to local residents about small changes that can have a big impact on our waste stream.

Saturday's pick-up coordinator, St. Mary’s Grade 12 student Meredith MacFarlane was encouraged by the efforts of the group. “It was a pretty wet day, but that motivated us to get the trash off the ground before it can make its way into our harbour. I just wish everyone would realize they are contributing to the decline in water quality and marine life when they casually toss a cigarette butt, candy wrapper or plastic coffee lid on the ground.”

Meredith and Owen Sound Waste Watcher Facilitator Laura Wood hope to present the findings of the day to Owen Sound City Council within a month and urge immediate action to reduce single-use plastic and improve awareness of the problem.

“Our planet has limited resources and we need to learn how to use these resources wisely. We look forward to more events like this in the days ahead,” says Wood.

Anyone who would like to participate in upcoming Owen Sound Waste Watchers events is encouraged to send an email to [email protected]