Rewriting the story of Toronto’s trash: another successful Urban Litter Challenge

On Sunday, September 11th, 2022, we had the third edition of the Urban Litter Challenge. In 2020, we switched to smaller socially-distanced cleanups spread out across the city due to COVID. In the end, we realized that this was actually a great way to get more people from different areas of the city involved in community cleanups, so we continued with this model!

The Urban Litter Challenge is a time for connecting with others, cleaning the city together, being stewards of our environment, and last but not least, having fun!

Results of the cleaning

We saw a total of 78 volunteers come out this year to help clean six locations across the city: Toronto Music Garden, Rennie Park, Coronation Park, Trinity Bellwoods Park, Sunnyside Beach, and Riverdale Park East. Together, we removed a total of 12,910 litter items which equated to 60 kg of litter. Attendance was diverse, and so were the types of litter items at each cleanup location. It was nice seeing many UofT undergraduates attend the Music Garden cleanup. At Rennie Park, kids took the lead, and they found a lot of small foam shedding from an old building. At Coronation Park, much of the litter was party material and recyclable, which resulted in a lot of recycling bags being filled.

The top 10 items found are shown above. Consistent with last year, cigarette butts, small plastic pieces, and food wrappers remained the top 3 items cleaned. Amazingly, volunteers at Trinity Bellwoods park collected 2500 cigarette butts, the most butts out of all the sites!

Where did the trash come from?

This was a litter challenge of many firsts. It was the first time a young volunteer’s tooth fell out, which she showed the site leads of Rennie Park with glee. It was also the first time we asked volunteers how they thought the trash they were collecting ended up in the parks.

In this respect, our cleanup volunteers and site leads had many interesting theories to share: some site leads said that since people often throw gatherings and parties in the parks, that is the reason why a lot of confetti, decorations, fireworks, and other party supplies were found. Volunteers at Coronation Park and the Music Garden Glass also found plenty of bottles and beer cans, probably left over from park gatherings and summer festivities. Volunteers at the Music Garden found BB gun pellets hiding in a bush, and they hypothesized that people were using them to practice their shooting skills. The world’s tiniest glasses were also found, which was probably leftover from a toy.

Rewriting the story of our city’s waste

While we were not able to control how the trash ended up in our parks before this cleanup, we can do something to change the story of waste in our city for the future. By doing cleanups, we are stopping the litter from entering Toronto’s waterways like Lake Ontario and the rivers that empty into the lake. Furthermore, by educating others, we can prevent the trash from ending up in the parks in the first place – a great example is spreading the word that we can be environmentally friendly when we plan events and festivities in public spaces.

By being stewards of our environment, we can take the fate of trash into our own hands and protect the health of everyone that lives here in this beautiful city. The mayor of the City of Toronto has pledged to clean up our city better, and we can all do something to help add to this effort.

This blog was written by Alice Zhu, a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Physical & Environmental Sciences at the University of Toronto Scarborough, and an avid member of the U of T Trash Team.

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