For Yasmin Schepens from Vancouver, what started as a project to photograph her favorite spot on the beach turned into a sometimes overwhelming commitment to get rid of trash like cigarette butts, food wrappers and other pieces of plastic.
“I couldn’t leave it there, so I started picking it up,” said the 30-year-old who moved to Canada from Belgium in 2016.
“And soon I got a bucket and some steak tongs to pick up the trash…and that’s how it started for me.”
For David Papineau, a graphic designer from Vancouver, it was the masks.
The 54-year-old long-distance runner began to notice them lying on sidewalks, under cars and in piles of leaves, so like Schepens, he decided not to ignore them.
He’s also invested in barbecue tongs and mitts and fills a bag with them as he goes.
In one year, he said he collected 32,000 pieces of trash. That number has now grown to more than 47,000. Now also picks up trash other than masks, like coffee cups.
“It’s definitely become a new normal for me, and I’m sure people look at the weirdo on Main Street who stops to pick up trash off the ground and shakes their heads, but if everyone picked up trash, there wouldn’t be just anyone on him. ground,” Papineau said.
It’s not hard to find people in communities around the world in the habit of cleaning. Japanese soccer fans made headlines around the world at the last World Cup for cleaning up the stadiums in Qatar.
The funny thing is that no matter how much trash they collect, there is always more, which can discourage people trying to make a difference.
“It’s kind of a losing battle with coffee cups, something about Vancouver,” Papineau said. “We love our coffee, but we seem to love throwing our trash on the ground even more.
“I’ve definitely had a few moments in the last year and a half where I’ve wondered why the hell I’m doing this.” he said.
CLOCK | This runner walks the streets of Vancouver collecting masks and other waste:
Schepens said he also has trouble cleaning up a section of his local beach only to return the next day to see trash on it yet again. She also continually notices the trash and feels compelled to take action.
“It’s not good for you to be constantly obsessed because obsession is negative energy, so you have to let it go,” he said.
Schepens became a volunteer and ambassador for Ocean Wise to inspire people to help. Shoreline cleanup is something the conservation organization has facilitated since 1994.
It has organized 30,542 cleanups and collected more than 2.1 million kilograms of garbage on the Canadian coast.
The collected trash is catalogued, allowing people like Laura Hardman, director of Ocean Wise, to identify where the most offensive items, like food packaging, come from.
“To inform businesses, inform legislators, and say, ‘Hey, this is what we’re finding on the shorelines. This is what our system, our infrastructure, recycling is currently not addressing… what can we do? do together to prevent that from reaching the coast?
‘Another part of the puzzle’
Jiaying Zhao, associate professor and research chair for Canada in UBC’s department of psychology, studies behavior change, especially in people who take pro-climate action.
She praises people willing to take action to pick up their communities’ trash, but says another collective action is needed for systematic change to help prevent certain kinds of trash, like single-use plastics, from ending up in the ocean. first.
“That’s the other part of the puzzle,” he said of attending protests and writing letters to businesses or politicians advocating for policy changes.
Isabella Bertold hopes to be a part of that systemic change.
The 31-year-old Vancouverite grew up on the ocean and became an Olympian in sailing. He still races professionally and is also a professional road cyclist.
While sailing at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, where water pollution was a major problem, she realized she needed to be part of the solution.
“That hit me with an a-ha moment,” he said.
Since then, Bertold has been using her voice as an athlete to try to inspire waste reduction in the companies and organizations she is involved with, such as SailGP.
The International Catamaran Sailing League is all about speed in exotic locales, but teams also score points for having the lowest carbon footprint and reducing waste in the communities they visit.
“It’s just about trying not to be part of the bigger problem and trying to drive change,” he said.
Bertold also tracks his own plastic use and collects trash, just like Schepens and Papineau, because he simply can’t see it and ignores it.
“If we commit to doing it and show how we fit it into our lives, hopefully we can influence and encourage some of our fans and supporters to do the same.”
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