A highway littered with insolence

Russell Wangersky
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I love the Doe Hills. Just west of Whitbourne, where the highway’s gone from divided lanes to one single ribbon, the road travels through a sweep of three or four deep valleys bracketed by steep hills. Then, as you climb towards the narrowest part of the isthmus, the spruce vanishes, opening up into a broad swath of grey-stone-specked barrens, a sort of proto-arctic landscape of small round hummocks and ponds that seem suited to the word tarn.

Coming up the first long slope into the hills on Thursday, I was behind two cars, one passing the other, when the passing car suddenly swerved to avoid something in the road. I pulled right as well, before realizing that the thing in the road was actually a large pizza box — a still-square, virtually new pizza box, flung out of a moving car because someone was simply done with it.

When you’ve driven other parts of the Trans-Canada Highway in this country, the stretch from

St. John’s to Corner Brook is actually quite amazing: not only is it a well-maintained highway with good sightlines, on a winter Thursday in March it is virtually empty.

You can drive for an hour or more with no vehicles in front of you and nothing in the rearview, meeting only occasional cars and the regular beat of the heavy transport trucks.

What is startling — truly startling — is the amount trash on the road. And not old trash either — I stopped counting the bright-red, roll-up-the-rim coffee cups on the road at 25.

These aren’t many day’s-worth of trash, either: these are cups that are still fully in the round, out near the centre line of the highway, still able to roll in the particular arc measured by the curve of their rims in the slipstream of passing cars.

These are all today’s cups, thrown out of today’s windows because drivers can’t be bothered to get them to the trash.

Sometimes, the cups are fresh enough that you can still see the great fan of milky-white “double-double” that marks the point where a half-full cup of cold coffee hit the pavement at 100 kilometres an hour or so.

Piling up by the day

Now, there are plenty of places along the Trans-Canada where you can stop and find all kinds of trash poking out of the greyed and rotting snowdrifts: shingles and siding, even lumpy dark-green bags of what looks like household trash.

But there’s something about the endless parade of coffee cups, of fast-food trash, the exploded bags of paper napkins and burger boxes, that suggests we’ve got a problem far worse than the handful of truly ignorant people who plainly feel that our side roads and quarries are dumpsites for their own personal use. Sure, this is the time of year when the whole winter’s sins start to appear out of the snowdrifts — but this is not leftovers from the whole winter.

It’s leftovers from this morning, and out in the ditches, there’s no doubt the remains of yesterday’s and the day before’s and the day before that.

There is so much fugitive brand-new trash on a single day on the highway — a single, light-traffic day — that it truly looks like there’s a much larger proportion of our population that just doesn’t give a damn about this place.

I mean, sure, it’s one pizza box, and maybe, across 600 kms or so of open road, 50, maybe 60 coffee cups. But that’s one every 10 kms or so, each one the personal signature of someone who couldn’t care less.

Would you toss your half-full cup of cold coffee right onto your living room floor?

So why is it all right to throw it in everyone’s backyard? We have a beautiful, vast province. Why treat it like a dump?

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s

editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Trans-Canada Highway

Geographic location: Whitbourne, Corner Brook, Canada

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Recent comments

  • Danny
    March 14, 2013 - 03:00

    I go for walk everynite.I don't need the empty cans & bottles I gather each evening..the nextdoor lady asks for them to bring for a 1$ or 2$ @ depot.It just is my duty as a citizen of the city to do each his/her part to clean up the mess.That also means no littering.How often do you see someone sitting in own driveway littering.It is a culture here in the city of selfishness & don't give a care.

  • Petertwo
    March 13, 2013 - 07:41

    Perhaps people are fed up with having to do something for someone else all the time? Why not clean it up for us? Maybe people do not want a bunch of tourists ogling them summer long; maybe after a long harsh winter they just want to enjoy their own province and charge their batteries: maybe they are not thrilled about another round of enforced EI and all the mud slinging that they had endured for years by the ignorant dumped on the fishermen and other seasonal workers? Maybe, just maybe, tourism is just not it?

    • Jay
      March 13, 2013 - 08:25

      Yes, maybe we should be encouraged to use our home as a dump. Let's all go out and poach a few moose and caribou, leave them in the freezer all summer, throw them in the garbage in the fall, and then go out and poach a few more. Let's catch all the trout and salmon so nobody else can. Let's drive our trikes and skidoos wherever we want and destroy the landscape. LET'S LIVE LIKE PIGS. This is not about tourism or people from outside the province, it's about having some respect for ourselves, and not blaming everybody else. Let's try that.

    • david
      March 13, 2013 - 18:57

      Wow...so we are a society of complete pigs, constantly and increasingly defecating in our much allegedly beloved pigpen.....for our entire history of settlement......as a political PROTEST against high unemployment, "selling out" to recent tourism, and an expression of our yearning for increased social freedom.....is that your "point"? Really?!

  • Anonymous
    March 12, 2013 - 13:42

    I once offered to pick up garbage along the highway in lieu of a fine and points deduction for a speeding violation. My request was denied. Too bad, I work cheaper than the 20 bucks an hour city workers.

  • t
    March 12, 2013 - 13:11

    Cleaning up this trash would be a great community service project for some of our young offenders, who seem to get off easy in our "justice" system, with just a slap on the wrist. They should be sentenced to a set number of hours cleaning up litter. Maybe something like this might serve as a deterrent to re-offending for some of them

  • W Bagg
    March 12, 2013 - 12:53

    make those Tim's cups worth 15 cents, see how many get thrown away then...........just like beer bottles

  • Anna
    March 12, 2013 - 12:13

    The garbage problem is a huge one here in this Province and won't be resovled until all people have respect for their environment. It doesn't help either that there are no employees picking up the garbage, everyone is dependent on volunteers to do it, and that is only a short term solution. Just wait until the snow melts on the Outer Ring Road, no one takes ownership for cleaning that up and it is truly an embarrassment when you are driving someone to the airport and they can't help but comment on the garbage. Ever since that road was completed, there has never been any worker, City or Provincial cleaning up the mess out there. It is all so discouraging.

  • saelcove
    March 12, 2013 - 10:09

    Happily retired is bang on

  • grisha
    March 12, 2013 - 09:49

    It is rare that I agree with every notion expressed in Russell's missives and the comments that follow but I am four square on these regarding littering. What a sorry state of mind that allows someone to simply discard his/her refuse for everyone else to be forced to observe particularly in such scenic areas. On the other hand, if early man/woman had not had the same proclivities we might not know so much about him/her. Maybe there are things about them we do not want to know.

  • Foghorn Leghorn
    March 12, 2013 - 08:50

    There should be a significant mandatory minimum fine and seizure of the vehicle involved, that is about the only way that some people may start about not throwing garbage out of a vehicle. You could probably do the same thing for cell phones as well and it probably still would not stop?

  • Ron Tizzard
    March 12, 2013 - 08:39

    I totally agree Russell....there's absolutely no justification for littering our landscape. If somebody is caught, he/she should be sentenced to walk a few Kilometers of the highway, collecting trash from the road-sides....in a striped, prisoner-style of jacket; It's a tiresome process, but I think it would at least be a response to the, seeming, forever experience of people just littering our roads and highways. A related aside... our sidewalks frequently suffer the same abuse! People on go, with cell-phones, witnessing such behaviour should report the behaviours to police with make of car and plate number. Then, police should be positioned to call the person(s) in, reading them the riot act; ticketing them; promising a court appearance should they be hauled in again.

  • Happily Retired
    March 12, 2013 - 08:26

    Russell, You don't know Newfoundlanders very well. As a group, we have proven time and time again that our sense of entitlement far outweighs our respect for the environment. We raped the cod stocks until they were destroyed. Then we tried to blame everyone else. We dump garbage behind any clump of trees rather than taking it to a landfill. We cut down trees without bothering to get permits, and we drive our skidoos and ATVs anywhere we want, not caring about what we destroy. We then cry to the stupid politicians if we can't get our own way in destroying a national park. Our pristine way of life is a myth perpetuated by politicians trying to encourage tourism. Who will we blame when there are no more tourist?

    • david
      March 12, 2013 - 16:49

      We have seen the enemy.....and it is us.