The easiest thing about going for a walk in the woods to pick up garbage is that you never have to bring your own bag. You’ll quickly find one somewhere along the way that will hold everything you collect.
The first bag I found last weekend when I took a short walk along the shore and back down the new snowmobile trail (now clear of snow) was one from the government liquor store.
It didn’t take long to fill it, but that wasn’t a problem. I soon found another larger grocery bag from Northmart, a plain grey one, and a full-sized black garbage bag that had an easily repairable tear at the bottom — one strategically-tied knot would suffice.
In the end I didn’t need any of them, since (as I’ve said) my walk down the shore and through the woods was a short one — three kilometres at the most — and I didn’t start picking up garbage until I was heading back towards town. In that distance, in addition to the four complete plastic bags and one partial one, I happened upon and collected one bent and battered (once chromed, but now rusted) metal pipe that looked like it might have been the barrel of an air gun, a chunk of heavy blue plastic broken off a snow shovel, 12 bits of linoleum flooring, two Diet Pepsi cans that looked like they’d been frozen while full and split open by the expanding ice inside them, an older and rusty Pepsi can circa 1975, two torn and twisted scraps of aluminium that might have been one or two pop cans, an unbroken Bud Light beer bottle, cardboard from a blue-coloured beer case, cardboard from other kinds of boxes, three wayward pieces of orange plastic marking ribbon and one of blue, a crushed plastic Naya water bottle, a broken piece of hard black plastic that might have come off a snowmobile, three broken pieces of hard white plastic that had definitely come off the bottom of a komatik runner (one had a bent three-inch galvanized nail sticking through it), a torn rectangle of bright orange tarp, a used Winchester 12-gauge shotgun shell, three empty cigaret packs (one MacDonald Special and two Canadian Classics), some scrunched-up tinfoil and several shards of a shattered plate-glass window.
Not all had been intentionally released into the wild by careless litterbugs. Some had obviously been lost accidentally — like the two full Pepsi cans — and since accidents always happen, there will always be a little trash scattered around our world. Nevertheless, there’s no need for the rest of it to have been there.
As far as waste management goes, this province is embarrassingly backwards, but there have recently been some limited improvements. For example, plastic shopping bags are still being used and discarded, but not so many as before. A lot of shoppers have taken to using the reusable shopping bags now offered by many grocery stores.
Sadly, there are few other improvements to mention. Labradorians still have nowhere to send their garbage except to a landfill, even if most of what ends up there is routinely recycled in more advanced parts of the world.
In some jurisdictions none of what I picked up in the woods would uselessly get thrown into a hole. In many places all the plastic, glass, paper, cardboard and metal would get processed and reused.
However, an efficient and comprehensive system like that requires two things this province seems to lack: a populace that wants it and a government willing to run it.
The fact that after so many years Newfoundland and Labrador’s infrastructure can still barely even recycle beverage containers and automobile tires means that the province is decades away from diverting all discards out of the waste stream and back into productive use, or from implementing such measures as holding branded companies responsible when their packaging ends up as litter. Also, the fact that litter remains so abundant means we still don’t care where our garbage goes after we throw it away.
Ultimately, until we’re able to implement the easiest waste management strategy ourselves — that is, to simply stop littering — no government will care, either.
Michael Johansen is a writer living in North West River, Labrador