Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on January 8, 2018.
As of two days ago, we are back to slush. A walk to the library yesterday had me jump over soupy snow marshes, making me pay extra attention to the sidewalk. When you do, one thing that stands out is the garbage. A straw here, a wrapper there, a disposable cup here, another one there, lids included, half-revealed by the melting snow. A couple of blocks worth of garbage.
Then come the daily walks through Peterson Creek Park. If you go far enough on the trails, there’s little or no garbage. The main trail though and the portions of trails immediately adjacent to it suffer from the same garbage litter issue. Plus, dog poop, right on the trails. ‘Tis almost the season again when it all comes out, some bagged, some not, all equally disgusting, more so if you happen to step in it. If the past years are a good reference, the worst is yet to come, I know that much.
Moving down the list, there’s the visual references from people who went up to the grasslands recently. Driving along Lac Du Bois Road takes you to a place of wondrous beauty every time, no matter the season. We are ever so lucky to be so close to the grasslands, as they truly are a wonder. They cover less than 1 percent of British Columbia and are home to more threatened and endangered species than any other habitat, according to the Grasslands Conservation Council of BC. Nothing short of magical beauty, and right in our common backyard.
The ‘common backyard’ part is where the heartache starts. It’s where I go back to the recent photos and videos I came across on social media. Loads of garbage. From pizza boxes, to diaper boxes filled with garbage, to Christmas wrappings and more, it was all dumped by the side of the road in the grasslands (could be another wild space too, such as Greenstone Mountain.) This happens every year.
Sure, there will be a cleanup organized by well-intended folks who will fill many garbage bags and remove (again!) more debris than one can possibly imagine. There will be many in fact – one in Peterson Creek, one in the grasslands, one at Riverside Park and in many other places. Thoughtful people are out there, and we need more like them. The question remains though: Will it hold?
Not really. Garbage keeps coming back. One could argue that it is worse to dump a couple of weeks worth of garbage somewhere along a dirt road outside town than it is to drop a candy wrapper in the city.
Well, size matters indeed, but mentality is the common denominator that we ought to pay attention to. It’s the care we manifest for our spaces, big or small, close to home or further away.
Single-use plastic is most commonly found out there, in town and in the back country, but it’s almost impossible to describe the worst of it all. Is it someone’s domestic garbage lying by the side of a road that cuts through beautiful landscape, or the growing heaps of nails from burnt pallets with some crushed beer cans for good measure. There’s unfortunately another shocker lying around the next bend, so you can never tell.
What can be done, one wonders? Install more garbage bins? Those who mean well already use the existing ones, but a higher density helps. Put up more signs warning of steep fines? That could work, but would be there to reinforce it? Perhaps we need to see more conservation officers and park rangers.
Yet the truth is that the most sustainable solution rests not with the reinforcers of laws and by-laws, but with each of us. Our planet is slowly but surely drowning in garbage. The more stuff we buy, the more we throw out. The less we care, the more the beauty that surrounds us shrinks and suffers. It may be that we are the ones causing the trouble, but the chilling reality is that we are also at the receiving end. If not this generation, then the next.
The writer and environmentalist George Monbiot once wrote ‘Progress is measured by the speed at which we destroy the conditions that sustain life.’ The emphasis is on ‘life’; not animal life or plant life, not wild life of any kind, but life. That means us too. It’s high time we see it that way, think it and live it, and raise ourselves and our children breathing it in as if it were oxygen. Because it is.