Dirty old province

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N.L. needs a litter action plan, pronto

With all the talk lately about Clean St. John’s new litter “#Litterskeet” litter prevention campaign, it occurred to me that the biggest litterskeet of all might well be the provincial government.

An alley on the south side of Water Street in St. John’s covered in litter. — Telegram file photo

Because litterskeets are not just those thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who feel it is perfectly OK to drop whatever they have in their hand on the ground or toss it out their car window or deposit household items on the side of the road or in the woods —

litterskeets are also the people who turn a blind eye to it, who do nothing to address the problem, even though they have the ability and responsibility to do so.

Maintaining the highways in this province falls under the jurisdiction of the provincial government. Surely all those cabinet ministers driving back to their districts or moving about for this public announcement or that community event must notice, year after year, the accumulating mess on the TCH and other highways.

Still, nothing ever gets done about it. Of course, there is an “adopt a highway” program where various groups and associations agree to take care of a stretch of road, but this is clearly not enough.

In fact, you cannot get in or out of St. John’s — the provincial capital, where most of us and our visitors end up at some point — without seeing the roadsides and medians strewn with garbage of all sorts: sheets of plywood, plastic or styrofoam, furniture and appliances, garbage bags — you name it, it’s there, including, you know, the regular stuff: chip bags, coffee cups, takeout containers.


Message lost

Clearly we’re not getting the message. We still have not shed our frontier attitude toward the land and resources around us — they’re all there for us to use and abuse as we see fit, no limits. But you see, ultimately, governments are elected to make the right decisions for the people, because sometimes the people cannot see the forest for the litter.

So, I implore the provincial government, particularly Premier Tom Marshall and Transportation Minister Nick McGrath, Environment Minister Joan Shea and Tourism Minister Sandy Collins, to instruct their officials to come up with a solution.

First, we need to get some crews — lots of them, because the problems I describe are not limited to St. John’s and surrounding area — out on the roadsides to pick up the unsightly garbage.

Second, we need a comprehensive litter prevention and management strategy for the entire province. Clearly the problem has gotten so big we can no longer leave the solutions to the very good people at volunteer organizations like Clean St. John’s and the garbage busters throughout the province who do their best to pick up after their filthy fellow citizens.

Third, we need to ensure municipalities are funded in a way that allows them to earmark money for regular litter collection.

Fourth, we need our municipalities to enforce their bylaws and impose fines on home, land and business owners who do nothing to maintain their properties. They’d make a fortune.

Fifth, every copper that gets spent on litter cleanups needs to be published — marketed even — under the litter prevention campaign. Maybe if taxpayers were to see the millions of dollars it will cost to clean up our roadsides and communities, some of them would think twice before littering, dumping or traveling in trucks with uncovered loads.

Finally, we need a culture change. Sadly, we need to be beaten over the head with messaging about the environmental and esthetic evils of littering. We need signs, TV and radio ads, whatever it takes, to remind us not to litter, and we need to give more attention to environmental issues in our education system.

Surely some of those elected to our provincial legislature see the irony in spending millions of dollars every year to draw tourists here to see the wonderful sights and attractions N.L. has to offer — and there are many, including our parks, coastlines, outport communities, wild berries, nesting eagles and the hundreds of beautiful icebergs that Mother Nature has sent our way this year — and at the same time expecting people who have laid down their hard-earned money to come here to turn a blind eye to the mess around them?

And, the bigger question, why do we continue to pretend that N.L. is not the dirtiest province in Canada? We are far wealthier than we were a generation ago.

It’s time to put our money where our litter is.


John Buffinga writes from St. John’s.

Geographic location: Canada

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Recent comments

  • anna
    May 19, 2014 - 12:18

    Great article John, I don't know if anyone in the Provincial Government will listen and act on this. I did call Minister Kent's office on Thursday to beg him to do something about the Outer Ring Road as the Department of Works have ignored my calls. We are the dirtiest City in Canada, maybe that will be part of the campaign by the Department of Tourism. This is not garbage left over from last winter, this is garbage that has accumulated over the years through neglect by all Municipalities and Government. Depending on volunteers to clean is up is not going to make the garbage go away.

  • Sheila White
    May 19, 2014 - 10:04

    I would like this writer and everyone to know about http://www.litterpreventionprogram.com and our weekly newsletter. Please use our resources and help change littering behaviours.

  • bob
    May 18, 2014 - 09:54

    Isn't it amazing when we the people over fifty were growing up there didn't seem to me much litter around. The younger people have been preached to about protecting the world they live in. One only has to take a look around school grounds to see what affect that message has. When you go into the country now you can follow the garbage out if you loose you way. It is time to stop taking people to court and handing out fines , taking their mode of transportation may be a much better deterrent to a lot of crimes.

  • Gerald.
    May 18, 2014 - 08:40

    Dirty Old Province. And yes that includes 'Dirty Old St. John's'. This article clearly and candidly identifies the unclean, careless and untidy habits and behaviours of a segment of our population who contribute to the unsightly mess of garbage and other forms of debris which we see strewn around the streets, sidewalks, highway shoulders, business premises' borders and yes even he backyards of certain residential properties. What an ungodly mess ! Having either lived in, or spent time in, many of the towns and cities across Canada in my lifetime, I can say without any hesitation that certainly portions of the Newfoundland highway of our Province, including the historic old City of St. John's, is the most garbage strewn, untidy looking place in the country. Even the backyards/gardens of some residential properties are a mess with old boards, garbage, unkempt, weed infested grounds, and unsightly rubble accumulation. It is an attitudinal problem, a careless, lazy behaviour that seems to be innate only to a certain portion of the population. These are the people we need to educate, to inform,, to convince to change their habits and behaviours starting in the home environment and schools and extending to the City and the Provincial Government. It is both shameful and embarrassing to have a Province and a capital city that is so untidy and so messy and with such a pathetic displace of carelessness and apathy. How sad, that in the midst of our rugged beauty we have to be exposed to such a disorderly canvas, created by a few.

  • Guy incognito
    May 18, 2014 - 06:56

    I called the a city because my neighbour had a load of garbage left out and the gulls were spreading it everywhere. This was Friday morning. They took my complaint but said there would be nobody to check it out till after the weekend. Guess the rats will have a good feed this May 24th. Just off Elizabeth avenue. Always a mess in the area of the courts.

  • Nancy G
    May 17, 2014 - 19:03

    Utilize prisoners and welfare recipients to pick up the trash.

  • Anna
    May 17, 2014 - 15:09

    I've been talking about the garbage in this Province, especially the city for the past four years, I have written letters, called Politicans and I have not seen any results. Just last week I called Minister Kent's office and spoke to his assitant as my calls to Public Works have not netted any results. I mentioned that the Ministers have to see the garbage as they travel over the Outer Ring and out over the highways, how can they turn a blind eye and yet turn around and spend millions on Tourism campaigns. We would win the prize for the dirtiest province in Canada and yet we have only a half a million people who produce this mess. There are no garbage containers to be seen as the councillors get upset that people dump their household garbage in them, well I say why not empty them every day? You would think that with new councillors this would become a priority and yet nonthing from them either. Clean St. John's is not working and the litterskeet is only a joke, like Dee says, drive around any school and see how much garbage is there. Leadership has to come from somewhere to get rid of this problem, maybe Minister Collins might have some new ideas on how to proceed. Stop using the excuse this is a windy city and we had a hard winter, this garbage has been there for years. On a final note, a garbage container that was on NL Drive in front of Virginia Plaza was removed two weeks ago, would you believe people are throwing their garbage where the bin used to be? The mentality of people in this Province never ceases to amaze me. Thank you John for such an enlightening letter.

  • Observer
    May 17, 2014 - 13:06

    Oh please!! So, the government is tasked with cleaning up after us filthy slobs? Government becomes our enabler? How is that going to keep us from continuing to throw garbage everywhere we feel like? How about we start taking responsibility for this mess ourselves and STOP treating our great outdoors and city and town streets like common garbage dumps? As long as I can remember, having lived in Newfoundland for over six decades, the outdoors has been where we dumped everything, from wrecked cars, beer bottles, paper, tin cans, you name it. It's part of the DNA, part of our culture not to give a damn about our environment. Take a drive through almost any town and it's common to see rusted out car wrecks sitting right in people's yards. They're everywhere! Breaking beer bottles and leaving them in the woods, on trails and beaches is merely entertainment for us. They're everywhere too! Suggesting that government do the job for us is not going to make one iota of difference. It is up to every individual to change these deeply ingrained habits but, sadly, I doubt if that "frontier attitude" is ever going to change. We need a brutal admission of our collective failure to do the right thing. Saying that it's government's responsibility will achieve absolutely nothing.

  • Dee
    May 17, 2014 - 10:35

    Yes you are right he city spends so much time trying to keep downtown St john's beautiful and clean,when in fact it's the filty,it smells the restaurant business thinks all they have to do is change their garbage cans,no you have to hose them out,you have to clean and scub the sidewalk in front of your business and deodorize it it stinks,the grounds are slimpy with left over food on the ground,on the front of their buildings there is food!not all of these business are the same but a good many of them are.And all the school kids out yesterday for the nice weather as a treat,I waited for my kids yesterday to get out well what a disgusting school grounds andd all these kids out playing ball when they should have been given a bag to clean up their garbage that they had thrown around during the winter.I sat there and counted 8 pizza boxes,I couldn't even count the pop cans,milk cartons,coffee cups.The was Beaconsfield Jr High.These kids need to be responsible instead they are reward an hour of to play ball.