Winnipeggers urged to pitch in and pick up for Earth Day

By | April 22, 2020

Take Pride Winnipeg has a suggestion for people itching to get outside and celebrate Earth Day — help pick up litter.

The group says the COVID-19 pandemic has left it short on volunteers for its annual “Team Up to Clean Up” campaign, since schools and other organizations won’t be sending out crews.

“Unfortunately, there is a lot of litter out there again this year, and even more unfortunately, we can’t go out in groups like we have in the past,” executive director Tom Ethans said Wednesday.

Nearly every street in town is dirty, he said, but ditches near malls and highways are often the worst. 

“There’s some streets that are terrible,” said Ethans, pointing to a stretch of Omand’s Creek that runs through the big box shopping district around Empress Street and Sargent Avenue. 

Tom Ethans of Take Pride Winnipeg says some of the worst cases of littering happen along the city’s highways and on roads near shopping centres, such as Empress Street, pictured here on Wednesday. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

“It’s not just from the stores, it’s also people tossing stuff out of their cars, which is even worse.”  

Bulging black garbage bags are strewn along the creek’s banks, along with an assortment of shredded paper cups, plastic bottles and other trash.

“When the snow melts, after a long winter, there’s a lot of litter lying there,” said Ethans. 

“The city is going to start its street sweeping, and that’s going to help a lot. But this is not an area where the city is going to come and street sweep, so we need people to come out and help.”

Ethans has been cruising the city, looking for the biggest problem spots. 

“Kenaston from Bishop Grandin all the way to the Perimeter; the Perimeter from Pembina Highway all the way around to Canada Way — unbelievable,” he said.

“Maryland and Sherbrook are both bad. Burrows is bad. I mean, I could keep naming streets.”

Take Pride Winnipeg executive director Tom Ethans has been cruising the city, identifying the biggest trouble spots for litter. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Take Pride Winnipeg will send volunteers to high-priority areas, near their homes. The non-profit organization will also provide them with trash bags and gloves, as well as tips on physical distancing requirements.

Ethans says it’s a good way to get fresh air and exercise, while celebrating Earth Day. 

University of Manitoba biology professor Gordon Goldsborough, who is also a local historian, says it’s also a good way to avoid polluting waterways.

“This time of year especially, we’re getting a lot of water running down the ditches,” he said.

“That means the garbage doesn’t just stay where people threw it. It ends up downstream in bigger ditches, and bigger ditches flow into rivers, and rivers end up flowing into places like Lake Winnipeg.”

U of M biologist Gordon Goldsborough says litter flows from ditches into streams like Omand’s Creek, pictured here, and then on to bigger bodies of water, including the Red River and Lake Winnipeg. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

He says he picked up litter himself this week and was stunned by the results.

“I was going a little stir crazy and decided I was going to pick up some of the garbage in the ditches around my house,” said the biologist. 

“I just walked about two or three houses along my street and ended up with three big garbage bags full.”

Goldsborough says paper and cardboard can be some of the most harmful materials for waterways. They’re often bleached with chemicals that leach into the water, and can later rob fish and other organisms of oxygen as they decompose.

A Canada goose floats along Omand’s Creek, one of the most littered streams in the city, according to Take Pride Winnipeg. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Another big concern is plastic. Goldsborough says it’s often lightweight, meaning it’ll float farther away than most materials. He says it will also spread toxic microplastics as the items break down along the way. 

Those microplastics cause a series of effects, according to the scientist. He says jagged little bits of plastic can cause abrasion in the lungs and tissue of fish and wildlife. The microplastic can also disrupt animals’ metabolism, affecting growth and reproduction, according to Goldsborough.

“And then maybe what is most troubling is that these materials are passed on,” he said.

“When an animal is eaten by another animal, these things are passed onto the next level. So these things could eventually come back and haunt us, for example, with the fish we eat.”

Take Pride Winnipeg will provide volunteers with garbage bags, gloves and tips for physical distancing. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Ethans says damaging effects like these are all the more reason to pitch in and keep litter from going down the city’s culverts and streams.  

“Today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day,” he said Wednesday.

“It’s important that we remember, we’re trying to save our planet. And with this pandemic that is going on right now, we really have to all work together to make sure we are safe, healthy, clean and beautiful.”

Ethans encourages anyone who wants to help to contact Take Pride Winnipeg online or by calling 204-792-5464.

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