/Our roadside garbage pits

Our roadside garbage pits

From Shaman’s Rock

By Jim Poling Sr.

What the world needs now are more dog walkers like Row Iliescu.

Iliescu is the Toronto woman who spends a lot of her time picking up litter while walking her dog in the city’s parks.

Most of the litter is cigarette butts which she sucks up with a handheld battery-operated vacuum. She estimates that on an average outing she picks up 300 to 400 butts.

She also picks up other litter. If she spots a discarded takeout coffee cup while vacuuming butts, she feels she can’t really not pick it up and toss it in a trash can.

I read about her on a blog post and then watched film clips of her on the television news.

Hearing about her volunteer anti-litter efforts got me thinking that we really need people like her in Haliburton County. Then I realized that we do have them.

Kennisis Lake Cottage Owners’ Association has organized roadside cleanup drives, as have other community groups and individuals. Many Saturdays or Sundays you will see someone with a spiked stick and garbage bag working a ditch or roadside somewhere in the county.

And, thank God they are. The amount of garbage we toss out vehicle windows onto our roads and highways is shocking and sickening. If some of it wasn’t being picked up by volunteers, the ditches would be full.

There are no accurate statistics on how much litter is dropped, or how much is cleaned up, every year in Canada.  Without a doubt hundreds of thousands of pieces of litter are dropped on our roads every year. And, roughly three-quarters of people asked in various surveys have admitted to tossing a cigarette butt, or dropping a gum wrapper or other piece of litter onto a roadside.

It’s a blessing that we have volunteers trying to keep our roadsides clear of litter. But the real answer to having litter-free roads is to find ways of stopping the litterers.

Most litterers don’t think about the serious problems caused by litter. Yes, it is unsightly, but it also is dangerous. A study done back in 2004 found that road debris and litter causes as many as 25,000 vehicle crashes a year on North American roads.

Litter is especially dangerous to cyclists, who are using highways more than in the past. A cyclist moving deeper into a traffic lane to avoid roadside litter risks being struck by a car or truck.

Animals run out onto roads to get discarded food products and end up being run down by a car or truck. Or, they eat discarded food gone bad and become ill.

Cigarette butts, cigarette packages and other items related to smoking are among the most littered roadside items. A discarded cigarette butt takes 12 years to break down and in doing so leaks cadmium, lead and arsenic into the environment.

These chemical components are taken in by plants, insects, animals and marine life.

Beer and pop cans also rate high in litter counts, and aluminium cans take centuries to break down. The U.S. non-profit organization Keep America Beautiful reports that its 2021 study found roadside beer container litter has increased 27 per cent since 2009.

Personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves also are becoming major litter items since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The frustration of litter is that there is no need for it. Laziness and carelessness are two main causes of littering. To get rid of those causes you have to change people’s attitudes.

That’s no small order, especially in Canada where we live surrounded by incredible natural beauty but ignore it, often living like pigs.

The World Bank has estimated that Canadian waste generation is the largest of any country in the world. It has estimated Canada’s annual waste total at 1,3235,480,289 metric tons. That’s roughly 36.1 metric tons per person each year.

The World Bank also estimates that global waste generation will increase by as much as 70 per cent in the next 25 to 30 years.

Canadians should be leaders in eliminating waste, but we’ll never be seen as leaders when we continue to allow our roadsides to become garbage pits.