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6 months later, what are we seeing?

16 April 2014

It’s been about 6 months since I launched the Grrbage app. We have people around the world using the app and I’m so appreciative of their commitment to cleaning up our planet, sharing what they find in their communities and for leaders in the fight against litter and those who litter.

There are similarities that we can see being posted. They types of garbage are very similar and where the garbage is being left behind is also similar.

With people moving about their days many ignore the coffee cups, cigarette packages and fast food packaging discarded by people that for some reason couldn’t make the effort to put their garbage in a trashcan.

Regardless of where someone is using the Grrbage app there are some consistent findings you might be interested in:

1. Drivers and passengers of vehicles account for a lot of the litter

The evidence here is where garbage can be found. Curbs, parking lots, drive-thru lanes and ditches seem to be a magnet for their garbage.

Some of the most disappointing findings are in school parking lots, where students old enough to drive dump anything from their vehicles. If these students are littering now, it’s going to be tough to get them to stop as they age.

2. Smokers are terrible for the environment

Not only are they polluting their bodies, every aspect of their habit is trashing your environment.

The typical journey of many smokers goes something like this.

  • I tear open the cellophane wrapper roll it in to a ball and throw it out of my car window
  • Open the paper packaging and discard the piece (or pieces) of paper that warn me of the health risks of smoking (I’ve yet to clean up an environmental warning from a cigarette package)
  • Remove the first foil paper covering my cigarettes, roll that in to a ball and throw that out of the window
  • Consume a cigarette while the filter clogs with a tar containing carcinogenic materials
  • Flick the still lit cigarette butt out the car window or drop it on the ground as I walk away from my smokers corner

I know people that smoke and many of them exhibit the behaviours mentioned above. Some will recycle their packaging, and some will throw out the cellophane. But I don’t know a single smoker that considers the slow release of toxins into our soil and ground water from the cigarette butt they leave on the leave behind.

Each cigarette butt will pollute our soil and ground water for 100 years…some types of filters can remain in the ground releasing it’s toxins for much longer than 100 years.

It’s a shame that cigarettes are legal to purchase in the first place.

3. People immigrating from poorer countries need to know

This might be a touchy subject, but it’s one that needs to be discussed.

Imagine for a second that you come from a country where you and your family were worried about food, water and shelter every day of your life. Survival is important…recycling and garbage disposal are not a priority for you and your family.

Now, imagine you have made the bold trek to another country where work is available, food and shelter are now plentiful. Priorities are still the same, food, shelter, water…but with the basic needs being met more easily it’s time to understand that caring for our environment is important.

It should be the responsibility of the government programs for immigration to ensure that the environment is considered when educating people that wish to live and exist in our beautiful country.That we exist only because of our natural habitat providing us with what we need and that it’s not ok to leave garbage where it doesn’t belong.

I have had conversations with groups of landed immigrants that were completely surprised that people even discussed litter, or keeping garbage out of the environment. Many of them mentioned it was of little concern, but that having the conversation helps.

I’m not writing this out of negativity but simply an observation of my travels abroad and conversations with many immigrants who have chosen to become citizens of our beautiful country.

Let’s have the conversation with all guests and future citizens to ensure they care for our land like we expect everyone too.

4. Big items hiding in plain sight

I’m not sure what the average cost is to dump something at landfills across Canada, but here in Regina $10.00 seems to be too much for some people.

Most grid roads around cities and towns seem to attract old furniture, mattresses and other large items. I don’t understand why someone took the time to load a truck full of unwanted furniture, car tires and other large items and then decided it was not worth driving to the dump to dispose of it there. Was it the $10.00 fee?

Perhaps cities could offer a free dump day at the beginning or end of each month when a lot of rental properties are changing tenants. A simple offer like this could remedy a lot of the large litter and debris that accumulates on the outskirts of our towns and cities.

5. Blame parents?

I’m a parent…and I take full accountability for the actions of my children. Yes, they will make mistakes just like we make adult sized mistakes. It seems there are pockets of people that make an effort to educate their children about their impact on the environment and it’s apparent that a lot of families aren’t talking about the issue.

Many parents are on the go and feel so busy and exhausted that little to no time is spent discussing the environment or developing the compassion for their surroundings with their children. Perhaps they feel that their children will just develop this compassion and respect on their own.

Parents need to lead by example, discuss these issues and show their children that their communities, parks and shorelines need to be kept clean.

6. Blame the schools?

Our classrooms and what goes on in them (or doesn’t) is always a hot topic for people of varying opinions. My wife taught in a school system for many years so I’ve heard and participated in a lot of conversation about what works and what doesn’t. Many of those conversations are important to me, but the conversations that aren’t happening are also important to me.  Why is there such little discussion and action about caring for our planet.

Incorporate the discussion in to the subject: “2 candy wrappers + 3 yogurt containers on the playground is how much garbage?”

As we drop our child off at school for his first year of Kindergarten I stop and point out all of the garbage on the school grounds. The prepackaged snack wrappers, drink bottles, broken toys and discarded clothing items strewn all over the grounds and trapped along the fences.

My 5 year old knows this is wrong. I tell him that maybe the teachers will take their children out to help clean the school up and talk about how littering is wrong and what students can do to help. Months later, the litter is still there, more has been added and the areas that I’ve cleaned have only piled up with more garbage.

Schools can do more and need to be leaders. The Grrbage app can be used by teachers and the school itself. Challenge other schools to use the Grrbage app and compete to have the cleanest school.

7. Blame the brands?

We all consume products simply out of need and also to satisfy our ‘wants’. We make a decision to support certain brands over other brands for a variety of reasons.

The garbage that collects along our roadways, trails, shorelines and in our oceans and communities is so heavily branded that it’s odd to find any organic litter like apple cores, banana peels and other organic material. People seem be showing off the brands they support by littering.

Could brands begin charging an environmental fee that they collect and fund environmental programs in the communities they serve? Would that help deter people from throwing their Tim Horton’s cup on the ground or their McDonald’s packaging tossed in to the ditch? I personally think it would help…a bit!

Could brands start providing incentives to consumers that prove they are responsible with their garbage? I believe they can.

Brands could use our Grrbage app to reach out and connect with the people that are volunteering their time to remove the waste left behind by people that purchased the products of that brand. Imagine getting a “thank you!” from Tim Horton’s for cleaning up after one of their customers. That would go a long way.

8. Blame the cities?

Regardless of how much garbage you see laying around your city, I don’t think anyone in city council would be ok with their city being known as a dirty city, and I’m sure a lot of is being done to combat the litter people leave behind.

Garbage cans need to be located everywhere. Does that mean a lot more money required (taxes) to service them? check on them? and empty them? Yes and no.

The initial cost of placing garbage and recycling bins on every corner of  busy and populated areas might be high, but there are ways to efficiently monitor those bins. Crowd sourcing is one way. The Grrbage app would be well suited for it.

A person could take a photo of the full trash can, post it in the Grrbage app and mention the cities username. The city could then respond with a “thank you!” and a service level promise and then schedule the bin to be emptied. As opposed to repeated visits by city crews checking on bins that might not need emptying each visit.

9. What about you?

We are all citizen of this earth. The water we drink, the food we eat and the air we breathe is borrowed from generations to come. We need to stop acting like the next generation can clean up our mess.

Everything we do today is impacting the water, the food and the air that our children, grand children and many other generations will be forced to consume.

I realize that it would be tough to convince a 13 year old that their children are going to be relying on the environment that the 13 year old is effecting now. But talking about it and acting like the future depends on it is key.

Be amazing everyday

Set the example today that you want others to follow tomorrow and lets care for this amazing planet and the limited resources it has to offer us.

I tell my children each chance I get about how much I love this planet and how much help Earth needs from all of ours. They get it…which gives me hope.

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