On being a litter picker-upper

Plastic bottles

As a child of the 70’s, I grew up in a house that had fairly lax ideas on environmentalism. Perhaps the plight of mother nature was on my parents’ minds and possibly it was something that gnawed on their conscience on the daily but a small part of me seriously doubts that. In fact, one of my most vivid memories of summer vacations are of long road trips with my family.

The trips throughout Canada and USA were accentuated by countless hours of listening to the Beach Boys and the Beatles, drinking ginger ale to fight nausea and watching my dad throw litter out the car window. I’m guessing this was a common occurrence for many people my age as this behaviour helped launch a very popular “Keep America Beautiful” TV ad in the ‘70s.

I recall my dad doing this with great pride – like it was a right that he earned and something he didn’t care too much about. Initially, I’m fairly certain my brother and I thought it was funny and possibly even cool. Eventually, it bothered my brother and I and our mother and we either urged him to stop or he just did it on his own. Regardless, it always struck me that this was something that my dad did in plain view of us all.

Ironically, when I became a parent, I did the opposite. Instead of throwing litter on the ground, I took to picking up litter. It started one day about 15 years ago when I was at a downtown park with my kids and I noticed the ground was covered in garbage from the local school. I was so bothered by the amount of juice boxes and freezie wrappers, that I took a few minutes to clean up the site and get back to playing with my kids.

Since that day, I would find myself randomly picking up litter - usually coffee cups and plastic bottles – during my daily travels. I even started using an app called Litterati which allows you to take photos of and tag the location and type of litter before you throw it out.

While it made me feel good and that I was making a “difference” (whatever the hell that means), it was something that I tried to do in private, without drawing attention to myself.

Recently, when I was at a park with my family, my youngest daughter asked why I stopped to photograph and then pick up and throw out a pop can. Instead of explaining what I was doing, I told her not to be concerned and go back to playing.

Without missing a beat, my wife responded, “Your daddy is tracking garbage on his phone and throwing it out.”

And then, seeing the surprised look on my face, she said, “For as long as I have known you, you pick up a litter. It’s something that you do and you shouldn’t hide it from the girls.”

And she was right.

Just as my father had been so flagrant in his love of littering, it made no sense for me to hide my never ending quest to keep my community clean from my own children. I’m sure, in time, they will be embarrassed by me carrying an empty beer can around as I try to find a recycling bin. Hopefully, they’ll remember that their dad used his obsessiveness to be part of the solution and not the problem.

For more information on Litterati, check out litterati.org and download the app to your iPhone or Android.

Picture of Mark Medland

Author: Mark Medland

Mark Medland is a 40 something father of five who lives in Mississauga, Ontario. When he is not working at one of the big Canadian banks or raising his kids, he likes to cheer for the Habs and eat amazing food with his wife Vanessa.

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