Jodi’s Journey in Picking Up Litter – The Surprises and Top Items Collected by the RCA President

Connector May 2020

By Jodi Tomchyshyn London

On Earth Day this year, April 22, I had been cooped up like the rest of the world because of COVID-19 for more than a month. With the snow gone in my southern Calgary community, I looked out my window to see litter, litter everywhere. I usually participate in my community’s spring litter clean-up, but it was cancelled this year so I decided to get some fresh air, help my community, do something good to recognize Earth Day and help the planet a wee bit. I grabbed a handful of empty chip bags and my headphones, downloaded a podcast, grabbed a pair of old metal tongs to pick up the litter, and then I headed out for a plalk. (I’m being honest, I am in no shape to plog. Plogging was never an option.)

Plalking is defined as: picking up litter whilst walking.
Plogging is defined as: picking up litter whilst jogging.

On that first trip, I filled five Costco-sized chip bags in the first 30 minutes of plalking … and I hadn’t even made it to the start of the 1 km pathway loop around our community’s naturalized storm drainage pond. Thankfully, there are park litter bins at the start of and along the path system. Once my bags were full and disposed, I had to finish my walk with only a pair of metal tongs in hand. Pro tip: if you want to keep people out of your 2-metre bubble in the time of COVID-19, carry a pair of metal tongs that you click like castanets every once in awhile.

After that first day, I became a bit obsessed. I was going to finish cleaning the pathway loop. And let’s be honest: after a month of sheltering in place, a daily walk filled with squats was only going to do me some good. So, everyday since Earth Day, I have headed out with five bags to fill. When I started this journey, I had expected to find beverage bottles and coffee cups (and yes, I did find some of those). But, most of the things I have been picking up (by number) are smaller than my hand. What surprised me the most was how frequently I was picking up the green Starbucks stopper (used to plug the holes in cup lids) and the brown stir sticks used by other coffee shops. While, admittedly, I didn’t find many Starbucks cups, those green stoppers (or pieces of them) seemed to be everywhere on my route.

Christina Seidel, a colleague and the Recycling Council of Alberta’s Executive Director, called me during one of my plalks, and I began ranting to her about what I was finding: more green Starbucks stoppers and bottle caps!!! She challenged me to conduct a litter “audit” of sorts. I am never one to back down from a waste-related challenge. Click here to view the picture-based results for Friday, May 1, 2020.

A few things have become more apparent as a result of my plalking adventures this year:

  1. We need to do a better job of encouraging Albertans to get in the habit of leaving their caps on their beverage containers. Our deposit return system has recycled these for over a decade.
  2. While we often focus on the biggest litter pieces in designing recycling collection (like coffee cups), it’s the smaller packaging-associated items that were a larger contributor to my litter audit by number, e.g., the dreaded green plastic stoppers, plastic stir sticks, bottle caps and film cigarette packaging.
  3. We need a better method of dealing with cigarette butts than disposing them in the environment. According to Statistics Canada, only 15% of Canadians smoked in 2018. Yet, this litter accounts for a significant number of the pieces found.

I wonder what litter is being found in other Alberta communities? Are you finding the same things? If not, what items have become your litter nemeses?

Jodi Tomchyshyn London.
President, Recycling Council of Alberta
Passionate environmentalist, plalker and anti-litter advocate

We want to hear from you and challenge you to clean up your communities! Plalking and plogging are two great and safe* activities during the COVID-19 social distancing guidelines.

*Remember to ensure you have the proper safety equipment while picking up litter. Wear puncture-proof gloves or a tool (like a garbage picker or tongs) to avoid touching items, glasses or eye protection, and dress for the conditions. Never pick up sharp items or items that you are not sure what they are.

References:

https://www.collinsdictionary.com/submission/20836/plalking

https://www.dictionary.com/e/pop-culture/plogging/

Castanets, “A percussion instrument of the clapper family” https://www.britannica.com/art/castanets

https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=1310009610