Dirty old province

N.L. needs a litter action plan, pronto

Published on May 17, 2014
An alley on the south side of Water Street in St. John’s covered in litter. — Telegram file photo

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.

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.