Recently, during a drive along the highway, I watched as the driver in the vehicle ahead tossed out a coffee cup letting it bounce on the road. I was shocked at the behaviour as I was taught in elementary school to put trash in its proper place. I then began to take notice more often of trash on the sides of the road. You do not have to drive very far to see trash littering our roadsides. This is a huge problem which is totally unnecessary in this day and age. A report recently released by the Multi Material Stewardship Board states “that there are approximately 92 million pieces of litter chucked in the woods or on the beaches”. This equates to 170 pieces per person in the province. Of particular interest is the estimated 924,000 pieces of litter from coffee shops. Second is fast food garbage and rounding out the top three is soft drink bottles.
Why would people toss out garbage like this as they drive down the highway instead of waiting to find a garbage bin? Nobody really knows the answer and it can only be assumed that laziness and a lack of care for the environment are to blame. Each spring, towns all over the province do a clean-up week with volunteers helping clean up the streets. It is amazing what is collected and how wide spread the problem is.
This litter is dangerous for wildlife, pollutes the environment and looks terrible. It is also very expensive to clean up. The city of St John’s alone estimates spending $772,000 each year to clean up trash. The provincial government spends approximately $110,000. I am sure the rest of the towns spending in the province easily puts the spending over 1 million dollars annually. This is tax payer’s dollars which means we are all paying for the clean-up.
There are signs along the highway that indicated substantial fines for tossing garbage along the road side. Given the extent of the problem it would seem that the penalty system is not an effective solution.
Combating roadside garbage is not an easy task and will require a combination of tactics in order to be successful. First, patrols need to be stepped up and offenders need to be fined. Second, people need to be educated on the harm of tossing garbage along the road side. The mentality that one coffee cup does not matter or that it will breakdown on its own needs to be corrected. Third, companies need to encourage consumers to us non-disposable items when possible. This would eliminate the problem at the source. Offering incentives like a discount when using reusable cups will encourage more environmental friendly options. Lastly companies need to charge an environmental fee directly to consumer and use these funds to support the clean-up. All of these initiatives will help to reduce the litter that makes it way to environment each year.
Jamie Warren is a native of Pasadena who lives and works in St. John's. He is a member of The Western Star's Community Editorial Board