When the snow melts, out comes the grass and — unfortunately — the garbage. We in Peterborough have just had a reminder that winter isn’t over, but spring is coming, and with it will come another reminder of our winter habits.
Each spring, a number of organizations such as the Rotary Club of Peterborough and Otonabee Conservation host events to bring people together in a united mission to pick up Peterborough’s trash is left over after the snow melts away. They target hotspots around Peterborough, such as Jackson Park and our shorelines, which are swept by volunteers looking for garbage and recycling.
Over the past decade, the Rotary Club’s Super Spring Cleanup has successfully collected 3,000 bags of garbage. Although I look forward to participating each year and marveling at how people are able to come together for such a great cause, let’s take a moment to reflect on WHY we have to do it.
When winter gives way to spring, it exposes a dirty secret: litter. Throughout the winter it appears that litter accumulates from windblown recycling, from car windows, and as dropped cigarette butts and coffee cups. Whatever the reason, litter begets litter; the idea that one person’s bad example sets the stage for others and a lone coffee cup becomes a crowd.
Although littering is a social taboo, most people litter when they are not being watched — and for good reason, as the fine in the City of Peterborough can be up to $5,000.
The trick in winter is that accumulated litter, which in warmer conditions can be a visible call to action, is periodically hidden by snow and ice. You can usually still see it emerging from snow banks and peeking out from freshly fallen snow, but it’s hard to see exactly how much of it there is. In any season, it is better to throw that wrapper into the bin and it is always best to start with a litterless option.
Here are three tips for being an active agent of sustainability in winter:
1. Avoid littering on your commute
Roadside garbage accumulates throughout the winter leaving an unsightly mess but it also damages the soil and nearby ecological community. Most of our dirty ditches are filled with fast-food cups and containers. This can be avoided with a little planning.
Keep small bags for garbage so that when you’re on the go you can toss coffee cups and food containers into a bag to be recycled later. Reusing shopping bags works well.
Develop new litterless habits by keeping clean reusable mugs in your car and packing a lunch and snacks using reusable containers from home.
2. Keep on recycling
Brave those frosty nights and take the time to recycle properly.
It’s difficult after large snow falls, but try and stay clear of high snow banks and place your blue bin on the curb. This will help collection workers to access your bin.
Crush your lightweight materials (such as paper) to the bottom of the bin and weigh down the load with heavier items on the top. This will help contain materials during blustery winter days and nights.
3. Don’t forget to compost
It is easy to skip the composting when the temperatures drop.
To keep you going, you can place a sealed bucket under the sink to store scraps during those extra cold days. Cut scraps into small pieces for quicker digestion. Keep the route to your composting bin clear.
While shoveling your driveway and footpaths, add your composter to the list.
Follow the ebbs and flows of temperature. Throw your scraps in the bin when the weather is milder, such as during a snowfall, as opposed to when it is -30. The bacteria will become active in your composter during these brief warm times making it the ideal time for adding scraps.
There are many more steps on the road to a garbage-free life, but if everyone were to follow even just these three simple steps, we’d all be in for a pleasant surprise come spring.
It is wonderful to see the community come together during the spring clean-ups but it would be so much more wonderful if there were no reasons to have one. Let us all challenge ourselves to keep our city as beautiful as it can be.
Make today the first day of your litterless winter!