Another successful Urban Litter Challenge across the GTA and Peel region
As the seasons change, the lush greenery of summer begins to take on the warm hues of fall before winter makes its presence felt. With the warmth of summer soon drawing to a close, our team marked another successful Urban Litter Challenge across the city, hosting a series of community cleanups across the GTA and Peel regions.
Taking place annually in September, the Urban Litter Challenge contributes locally and globally, through the Ocean Wise Shoreline Cleanup and International Coastal Cleanup, in which our collective efforts removing litter from public spaces aim to improve our waterways’ health. Southern Ontario has many waterways, including rivers and streams, which connect to the Great Lakes and eventually our oceans.
Due to various sources of litter, from agriculture to urban environments, plastic accumulates significantly in our oceans and waterways, with an estimated 10,000 metric tons of plastic entering the Great Lakes annually. In addition to prevention, cleanup is a great intervention strategy for improving ecosystem health and reducing plastic pollution.
Our Role as Site Leads
The Urban Litter Challenge is an opportunity for young people to be leaders within their communities, and site leads are an integral part of this event. The lived experience of collecting, sorting, and quantifying litter develops a greater appreciation and understanding of the magnitude of waste and pollution. It also provides an excellent opportunity to get outdoors, make new community connections, and develop a greater affection for the earth around us and the spaces we call home.
Gloria, who cleaned Trinity Bellwoods Park with Heidi and Juan, said she walked through the park often and always considered it clean. However, upon taking a closer look, she realized that small pieces of trash littered the whole area. Chelsea and Amber picked Taylor Creek Park as it has been an area of recent research, acting as a case study to assess the fate and transport of plastic litter in rivers. Mary, who cleaned Heart Lake Conservation Area in Brampton with Simran, explained it’s a popular social spot and a local favourite that deserved to be cleaned.
In anticipation of the big day, site leads eagerly began preparing by recruiting community volunteers, gathering supplies and visiting their location to scope things out. When cleanup day came, they arrived with excitement to meet the community and ensure everyone had a good time while taking a step to make a measurable difference in the world.
They set up their supplies in an easy to find spot, welcomed all volunteers, and shared instructions for filling out a data card to track the items they found. The data card was essential to understanding how our surroundings are littered and what the most common type of garbage is, to effectively address these problems.
So, What Did we Find?
Eight cleanups were led across public parks in Mississauga, Toronto, and Brampton, with a turnout of 73 community volunteers who collected 13,325 litter items. This number is likely even higher as we encountered many small plastics, like small plastic fragments and a LOT of confetti. In total, we removed 77 kg of litter, which is nearly the weight of 8 adult raccoons.
Volunteers found that the most common items they picked up were cigarette butts, food wrappers, small plastic pieces, and various examples of single-use plastic. Volunteers even found some bizarre things on the ground including a bow tie, Serbian bill, 3D movie glasses, earbuds, a pacifier, and an array of sports equipment!
Not only did the cleanups make our surroundings cleaner and healthier, but they also left everyone with a sense of pride and happiness. After their hard work, Natalie and Chelsea said they felt accomplished and positive looking at the clean park. Zoie and Lena were happy to see everyone feeling enthusiastic and energetic and enjoyed cleaning with new people who shared a passion for the environment. Besides the positive impact the cleanups had on the environment and the volunteers, passersbys who watched them clean were also inspired by their motivation and commitment!
“I hope that we influenced others to be more aware that cleanups are happening around the city, to be more aware of their garbage, and not to leave litter in parks.”
Lena, Queen’s Park Cleanup
Along with cleanups, it is just as essential to ensure we appropriately dispose of our waste so we create as little litter as possible. Our hope for this cleanup was to create awareness and encourage people to become more active in dealing with environmental issues, like a predominance of single-use waste and plastic pollution.
“As a society, we consume a lot more than our planet can take on. As a result, we have litter in all sorts of places in many different sizes. This ultimately puts our waterways and resources at risk of pollution and environmental degradation. It is important to realize that, especially with plastic pollution, every little bit counts, and can turn into even smaller plastic pieces, which can harm human, wildlife and ecosystem health.”
Natalie, Queen’s Park Cleanup
From Local to Global, the Impact of Cleanups
Even though our cleanups took place locally, it was important to recognize how they had a globalized impact and reflect on how litter ends up in lakes and oceans without preventative measures at the source of origin. The impacts of our Urban Litter Challenge are in the visible imagery of youth contributing to environmental health, the sense of duty we may instill in people to aid their environments, and our understanding of ourselves as being fundamentally connected to each other and the earth. We can all contribute by engaging in practices of proper waste disposal, reducing single-use plastic habits, and learning about the realities of climate change.
Due to our group efforts and individual passions, we collected a substantial amount of waste, symbolic of the burdens that climate change has placed upon us all. With projects like these, we want to change the understanding of that weight as not a load to be lugged but rather something we carry together. It is the weight of an opportunity to make things right again on our planet.
Written by Aditi Upadhyaya and Rhianna Buck.
Aditi is a 2nd year student double majoring in Political Science and Sociology, and minoring in Religion.
Rhianna is a 2nd year student double majoring in Psychology and Sociology with a minor in Philosophy. Rhianna likes rock climbing and learning new things about human biology.