Living down the litter legacy

Pam Frampton
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“There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before.”

— Irish writer Robert Wilson Lynd (1879-1949)

One of the best things about living in this province, whether you’re country folk or hardcore urbanites, is the relatively unfettered access to nature.

You don’t have to go far, even in St. John’s, to feel like you’re not in a concrete jungle, whether you’re clambering over the rocks at Cuckold’s Cove, watching fishing boats bob at Prosser’s Rock, feeling the salt spray on your face at Cape Spear or enjoying the sun-dappled light on one of the many walking trails that snake through the city.

Unlike some kids in Toronto, who have to be introduced to Mother Nature, we’ve all made her acquaintance and have grown up in her shadow.

I spent my childhood looking for fossils, climbing trees and beachcombing out around the bay. We were taught a healthy respect for nature, to appreciate its many wonders and not to destroy it in any way. Whatever you brought into the woods when you went trouting came right back out in your fishing creel or knapsack.

That’s probably why I didn’t understand why you would often stumble upon rusty coiled mattresses in the woods or hulking engine parts on the beach. Why you could find empty Vienna sausage tins and crushed pop cans stuck in the sand at the bottom of a pond.

And it’s why I still don’t understand why we are intent on soiling our own nests.

We tout our beautiful, majestic landscapes in ads to lure tourists, and yet we are the first to trash those landscapes with our junk. Let’s face it, it’s not the tourists who are throwing sofas down embankments and setting fire to stolen vehicles in the woods.

Walking on the Virginia River trail with my husband and our dog the other day, I was appalled by the abundance of trash clogging an otherwise beautiful river.

Among our inventory was a sodden sheet of aspenite, a rusting window frame, a plastic five-gallon bucket, crumpled up tin foil, an office chair, cardboard coffee cups, empty fast-food containers from Wendy’s, McDonald’s, A&W, Tim Hortons, Booster Juice and DQ.

There were plastic shopping bags strangling submerged tree branches. A glass vodka cooler bottle (which my husband was able to retrieve and carry out). Chip bags. Candy bar wrappers. Unidentified plastic objects. All cluttering up the river, endangering wildlife and ruining the view.

And that was just in the river, not to mention what we saw discarded in the woods and along the trail itself.

One disgusting stretch of refuse in the river was in clear view of the “Fish habitat: keep it clean” sign and within 20 feet of a garbage can.

Other signs posted by the City of St. John’s about bicycle riding and dog leash rules were covered in blue spray paint. The back of an interpretative sign was totally covered in graffiti, and a bridge railing was defaced with black marker — “I love you ... Josh!” (Next time, try just telling him).

Further down the trail, a high whitewashed plywood fence erected as a buffer between the Virginia River and the new long-term care facility under construction has been defaced by graffiti gangsters. Apparently, we have entered the domain of the “Roothless Villins.” They’ve written some other stuff on the wall, too, but it isn’t fit to print. One large sheet of plywood has been ripped away from the fence altogether and has been tossed into the river below.

A former school backing onto the trail has had every single window smashed out with rocks, and jagged pieces of glass are strewn on the ground.

Those lovely government tourism ads may well lure visitors to our shores, but they may be getting an entirely different kind of message once they arrive.

And the message is that some of us are too lazy to hang onto our garbage until we reach a garbage can. That we have no respect for our scenic surroundings or a network of walking trails lovingly maintained by volunteers. That we don’t care how messy our home is for visitors, nor for the state it will be in once it’s turned over to our children and their children.

That we feed our wildlife plastic and leave offerings of office furniture to the river gods. And that we never saw a pane of glass we didn’t want to smash or an unmarked surface that we didn’t want to deface.

Welcome to Newfoundland, folks — the province where too many people seem intent on turning treasure into trash.

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s story editor. She can be reached by email at Twitter: pam_frampton

Organizations: Tim Hortons

Geographic location: Virginia River, Toronto, Vienna Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Bob
    July 10, 2011 - 20:47

    I endorse Michelle's observation that parents are all too consumed with their "gimme this" kids rather than their parental and civic responsibilities. Pam, I'd bet dollars to donuts litterers are hardly the types who read newspapers, notably articles such as this. Damn! they spread your column all over Saturday's paper again.

  • David
    July 10, 2011 - 16:44

    Nowhere talks about itself more than Newfoundland does...that we're the best, freindleies people anywhere. Well, that's good for tourism, but it's total BS....we're just pathetically insecure, anmd for good reason. We're largely a bunch of pigs who soil our own beds at every opportunity. The truth shall set you free.

    July 10, 2011 - 09:10

    This isn't a St, John's problem, it's a Newfoundland problem, a people problem. Many, not all Newfoundlanders are pigs, there is trash everywhere, at ball parks, on road and highway sides, in the forest, by any accessable river, everywhere, we are a dirty, filthy crowd with no respect for what we have. The city, nor the province can keep up with so many ignorant pigs, the clean up has to start with the individual, not the city, the municipality or the government. People have to stop the littering, no government can keep up with the way we litter our own province, many Newfies are simply to ignorant and too lazy to care.

  • Michelle
    July 09, 2011 - 12:32

    There seems to be a lot of "poor me" mentality around, i.e. Poor me, I'm so hard done by, so I might as well be selfish and get away with whatever I can. The problem Ms. Frampton describes is a combination of this "poor me" attitude along with plain ole laziness. Too many parents these days can't be bothered to make sure their offspring behave properly and show respect. For too many people, parenting is about overindulging their "adorable" children rather than paying any attention to the children's behaviour. And I'm not saying it's just young people littering. The adult litterers obviously weren't raised to have a conscience either.

  • Maria
    July 09, 2011 - 11:32

    St.John's is such a great city -why is there so much garbage around? Simply we need more covered garbage bins that are emptied more often ( or on a regualar basis). It can be that simple! Most people do not want to litter , but the majority of people will not carry around garbage or waste until they see a bin. The whole other issue of LACK of recyling bins around the city is embarrasing to say the least.Kids are being taught to recycle yet, we as adults do not follow their lead by giving them places in front of stores, parks, etc to drop their recycling. I have to ask what the accomplishments of the Clean and Beautiful committe and director are ? We do not need a one week clean up campaign. We need a culture change and real strategies and action to make a great city less dirty. If businesses and people were fined for garbage issues as fast as they are for an expired meter, imagine how clean our city would be? Please take some time to clean your neighbourhood and put pressure on businesses - small and large to be accountable for their litter .

  • Anna
    July 09, 2011 - 10:50

    Unfortunately Pam, we have a City Council who thinks 15 min in May is enough to clean up they City. If the mess that is on Stavanger Drive was on Water Street they would be after the shop owners to clean up. People are still driving to Robin Hood Bay with vehicles uncovered garbage flying all over the Outer Ring Road and no tickets are issued. Why this Council doesn't hire a bunch of high school students to clean up the city is beyond me. But then go to Pippy Park Golf course and see the ton of beer bottles and cans thrown in the woods and you can only imagine the mentality of the people you are dealing with. Newfoundlanders are a very dirty species.