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Bitter about Litter! Mother Nature Needs You!

Over the last year I have become what some would refer to as an “avid runner”. Since June of last year I have run close to 500kms around the rural streets of North Langley and Fort Langley. For the first few months my focus was solely on breathing, running and not dying. Once I got all those things under control I was able to focus more on the music in my ears and the world around me. The gorgeous views across the Fraser River to Maple Ridge, the snow capped peaks of Golden Ears mountains and the piles and piles of garbage and litter that fills the ditches and fields of our relatively affluent community.

Now, I have never really considered myself an “environmentalist” but I have always felt that at some point everyone that lives within a community should care enough about where they live and raise their children to do something, once or twice a year, to make it a better place. This is big reason why I have volunteered every year  for the last 6 years as a Little League Coach and why my wife is on the Parental Advisory Council at our children’s school where as the treasurer she spends many hours fund-raising, attending meetings  and “doing the books”. This weekend however, I was informed of a clean up effort being held in our community of Walnut Grove. With all those visions from my runs fresh in my mind, I jumped at the opportunity to “pitch-in”. The plan was for the Township, the auxiliary police and a number of members of the community to meet up  at the local High school parking lot at 8:00 am on a Saturday morning to volunteer their time and clean up the surrounding area.

I was really looking forward to participating and wanted to bring my kids so that they could take part in this very worthwhile cause but both of them had sports to attend during the event so my wife shuttled them around while I signed my liability waiver, slipped on the latex gloves and grabbed my giant-sized tweezers (aka “the picker-uper-thingy). The group putting it on was very organized and had complimentary coffee and donuts donated by Tim Hortons. They also had blowers, plenty of garbage bags and pressure washers available, all that was missing was the hordes of volunteers I was expecting to be working with! Apparently there were over 60 people who had signed up and only 30 or so showed up even though it was not raining. I was shocked. I live in an area referred to as the Township of Langley which currently has a population of over 100,000 people, 25,000 of which live in Walnut Grove and at our once a year clean up day we had a whopping  0.001% of our population show up to “pitch-in”.

I put aside the fact that 99.99% of our community must have been unaware that this event was taking place or simply had important things to do that day and teamed up with a mother and her two kids aged 5 & 7 and set out to clean up our assigned area. We were charged with the responsibility for picking litter around the high school’s track, two all-weather fields, 4 baseball diamonds another huge field and the trail network that joined them together. A daunting task for a group three times the size but we set out to do the best we could. Now given that this area was frequented by numerous sports teams and the 2000+ students that attend the high school the volume of garbage was expected to be high and it lived up to my expectation. I was disgusted. We spent the better part of three and a half hours slowly and meticulously navigating our way around the perimeter of the fence that surrounds the running track, then into an open area along a trail and below a foot bridge along a creek. Even though the kids lost interest in picking litter after about an hour we still managed to fill six big black garbage bags, haul two broken lawn chairs and a smashed, rusty old computer tower out of the creek bed. The bulk of the other garbage was snack packaging, beer/pop cans, plastic water bottles and nearly a hundred slurpee cups, lids and straws from the nearby Mac’s convenience store.

The event only ran until noon with the last half hour being a complimentary lunch of smokies, hot dogs, veggies and dip, juice boxes, bottled water and cookies.  As I munched on my cookie, all I kept thinking was, there has to be a way to get more people out to events like this in the future. The township representative said that they had run a couple ads in the local papers and that it was listed under the community events on their website. The family that I had worked with had heard it through the young girls Brownie troop and I had heard about it through an email from the newly formed Walnut Grove Business Owners Association. I thought about the high school with 2000 students that make a big percentage of the mess and wondered why none of them were there.

Taking part in this event has made me realize a few things.

  1. Once you have spent a few hours picking up garbage you will now see it everywhere.
  2. Community events need to be promoted better, on a more personal level if they are to be a bigger success. I think getting the local sports organizations involved as well as a team from the high school would be a great place to start as well as some door to door visits to local residence and businesses in the week leading up to the big day.
  3. Our kids need to be better educated on the effects of their own pollution because at this point they just don’t get it. What ever happened to those “Woodsy the Owl” commercials that ran during the morning cartoons? Remember “Give a hoot, don’t pollute!”

Today I went for a run in the sun down 96th ave to Fort Langley and noticed that someone had dumped clothing items one by one out of a moving vehicle for over 2 kilometers. Cars were braking to avoid them not realizing what they were until the last minute. I am baffled as to what would make someone do this and it’s not the first time I have seen it done. My anger rose with every passing item. Ditches were littered with trash and road sides are covered in cigarette butts. The idea of trying to fix a problem like this is like trying to swim up Niagara falls but what I do know is that I am prepared to work with the Township next year to get more people out to take part in this great initiative. In the mean time, I will do what I did today. On my way back home from Fort Langley I picked up all of the clothing and carried it home to my own garbage can.

Once home, I fired up the computer to look into the Adopt-a-Street program to see how it all works and learned that the street in question from today is already adopted but clearly the person who has adopted it is not honoring their commitment of a once a month clean up. If you wish to adopt a street in your area it is free. To learn more about the Adopt-a-Street program and to see a map of the streets available in your area of the Township of Langley Click here. I am looking into it myself.

If you have taken the time to read this, Thank you. Now take a look at your own community and the world around you next time you are out and about. This is the world we are leaving for our children to raise our grand kids. Have a look online at your community events to see where you can help out. Be the .001% that makes a difference!

COSTCO Misses the Green Boat

On a recent visit to Costco I realized something that really made me shake my head. With most of the world in a heightened mindset of environmental awareness, where some consumers will pay more for products that are deemed eco-friendly, Costco has made some great strides. They have reinvented their detergents, baby-care products and their Kirkland brand household cleaners to be easier on the environment as well as making their packaging more eco-friendly.

All that being said, why is it that, with all of their buying power, huge inventory of products and emphasis on a greener image, would they give you a complimentary cup of coffee in a non-biodegradable styrofoam cup and give you a full size plastic spoon to stir in your cream and sugar. Why not a biodegradable cup with a wooden stir stick? Seriously! I’m no tree huggin’ environmental activist but this is a real no brainer isn’t it?

Update: Jan 26/11

I shared this link with the good folks are Costco and they seemed some what surprised about this. They asked me when this observation occurred, which location, what time of day and inquired as to whether it was someone sampling. I filled them in on all the details and they were quick to respond again to tell me that my blog posting was being sent to the managers of the Langley location to address. Crossing my fingers that next time I go to Costco in the morning they will still be offering complimentary coffee. Only in a more environmentally sustainable fashion!

Update: Feb 13th/11

I was hoping that I would receive some correspondence from management at Langley perhaps thanking me for pointing out such an obvious environmental faux-pas but I did not hear anything. So this past Sunday I went shopping at Costco in Langley and was eagerly waiting to see if my suggestion had been considered by the management. Well, I am sad to say it had clearly fallen on deaf ears. This honestly blows me away. Such a simple fix at next to no cost difference.

Update March 3rd/11

Today I received a phone call from the general manager of the Langley Costco branch. He wanted to let me know that he had received my letter and that he is currently in the processes of sourcing out a greener alternative to the styro foam cups and plastic spoons. He said he had been in discussions with the Vice President of Costco in Canada about his challenges in finding a cup that truly is as “Compostable” or “Biodegradable” as it claims to be. Apparently many of the take out containers out there that claim to be “green” are not thanks to a lack of a governing body that polices each individual companies claims. He said that a company as big as Costco must make absolutely sure they are changing to a product that is what it says it is. Which totally makes sense. He said that Costco is also looking at changing the takeout containers and cutlery that they use in their concession in an effort to move forward with a green initiative. Although the call came over a month after my initial contact I am extremely pleased to hear that the powers that be are giving this some serious consideration. Hopefully this story will have a happy ending after all is said and done!

Update Sept 22nd, 2011

Well, well, well, colour me impressed! It gives me great pleasure to share with everyone that on my visit to Costco today I was grinning from ear to ear when I helped myself to a complimentary coffee in a fully compostable, recyclable and biodegradable cup and then stirred in my Splenda with a wooden stir stick! The cup they are using is one that I suggested to the manager in my discussion with him back in March. Way to go Costco and thank you for listening to the voice of your customers!