The holidays are synonymous with year-end giving and this year in particular nonprofits needed our support. I’ve written extensively how every dollar can add up to meaningful change for our communities. If you’ve been following my blog, you know litter is also a common theme.
When you pick up litter, you’re also giving—giving back to the environment. After being frustrated with seeing litter on our trails, I launched Make a Pact, Pack It Out, an online initiative using social media (primarily Instagram) to encourage people to post pictures of litter they find and pack out using the hashtag #makeapactpackitout. The response has been impressive, with nearly 1,000 pictures tagged!
As part of Make a Pact, Pack it Out, I’ve connected online with like-minded litter picker-uppers near and far, one of whom is Brett Porter, a high school student from Ontario, Canada. I’m honored my last blog post of 2017 highlights Brett and the good work he and his friends are doing.
Tell me a little bit about yourself
I live in Ennismore, Ontario, Canada, and go to school in Peterborough, the closest city nearby. I’m in my last year of high school, and plan on attending either Ryerson for communications or Wilfred Laurier for social and environmental justice next year. My three main hobbies are reading, writing, and playing video games. I also enjoy volunteering at a local cat shelter, ARK (Animal Rescue Krew). This is where I adopted my favorite critter in the whole world: my cat, Luna.
What’s Mother Nature Matters?
Mother Nature Matters is the social media aspect (Instagram) of a project for my world issues class, Challenge to Change. We choose a topic we see as an issue in our community and work at solving and raising awareness about it. Peterborough and the surrounding area are located around fabulous lakes and waterways, and I’ve always hated the thought of garbage polluting the natural beauty of the water.
Our goal was to start a dialogue between people our age who are litter bugs, and discuss what motivates them to litter and why they shouldn’t be doing it. We felt if we could convince even one person to stop littering, we would have succeeded with our project. We also wanted to travel to areas that are common places for litter build up and clean them. We focused along waterways, with our three biggest clean-ups areas targeting:
- Jackson Park: Specifically the pond – lots of plastic poop bags, drink cups from walkers
- Bridgenorth/Ennismore Causeway: A popular spot for fishermen to dump garbage
- Water Street: A street alongside Otonabee river, common for drivers to throw garbage out their window
We wanted to see a physical difference in the areas we frequented. A lot of the litter throughout Peterborough has been there for years – our objective was to end the progression of the litter building up.
How much litter have you picked up?
Through the span of about three weeks, we picked up 15 large black garbage bags worth of litter. Our most commonly picked up items included cigarette butts, Tim Hortons cups (similar to Starbucks/Dunkin Donuts), McDonald’s cups, and Styrofoam containers.
What have you learned from Mother Nature Matters?
Most people recognize littering is an awful habit, but they repress the negative feelings associated with it when they litter. A simple conversation about what litter does to the environment while applying a little social pressure can do wonders at changing people’s minds. We had GREAT success dealing with litter bugs.
What has been the feedback?
Most people, especially middle-aged or older, were beyond grateful for our interest in protecting the environment. On all of our larger excursions, people honked from their cars, waved at us, yelled “THANK YOU” out their window, and offered to help us by taking our full garbage bags to the dump (so we didn’t have to leave the bags and then come back to pick them up).
Strangest thing you’ve picked up?
We found two desks, a table, sleeping bags, and many pairs of pants/underwear. On a more disgusting note, we also frequently came across condoms, and female toiletries, such as pads and tampons.
What’s your main message?
Understand the chain of events that harming the environment can cause. The environment shouldn’t be considered a “secondary” problem. Speak up when someone litters, or does anything that ignores the fragility of the environment. People are often embarrassed by their bad habits, and sometimes it only takes one comment to break that habit. If you don’t like confronting people on your own, do it with a friend, or a group. There is a lot of power in numbers. Also, be respectful while doing so; people respond poorly to being insulted or attacked over their habits. Think of the comments you’re making as a gentle nudge in the right direction, rather than a push.
Anything else you want to share?
I have absolutely loved this project, and I will keep the Instagram page, Mother Nature Matters, running to continue the positive influence it has had on our community. The project was absolutely inspired by Adventures in Thumbholes, and much of the credit belongs to you, Erin. I will continue spreading your message, and have loved answering questions for you. Thank you for your kind words and encouragement.
Studies show the highest indicator someone will pick up litter is if they see someone doing it. The work of Brett and his classmates is creating a positive ripple effective in their community. Thank you, Brett, for taking the time to share your story and for your ongoing stewardship – you’re making a difference.
Remember, picking up litter is a gift we can give to our communities and natural areas year-round.