Thompson sees drop in litter rates – sort of

A report recently released by the Canadian Beverage Container Recycling Association (CBCRA) reported a decline in urban litter across cities in the province. Notably for Thompson, the report celebrated a 62 per cent decline in beverage container litter from 2014 to 2015, a number equivalent to the reductions Winnipeg, Brandon and Steinbach accomplished over periods of two to five years.

The CBCRA attributes the drop in litter to the Recycle Everywhere program, which has set up recycling containers throughout urban areas to encourage less littering, and more recycling in day-to-day life. In a news release, CBCRA executive director Ken Friesen notes, “What we think this suggests is that year after year, Manitobans are becoming increasingly knowledgeable about where they should and shot not put their empty beverage containers. In just five short years, we are confident that Recycle Everywhere programming played a part in successfully informing residents and improving empty beverage container behaviour.”

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Beverage containers are the only litter segment which has targets set by the provincial government, and the campaign hopes that the singular focus will lead to more effective campaigning. Litter rates are measured through site audits conducted in the summer by MGM Management; 25 sites are randomly selected within a city, and consist of an area 61 metres long and 5.5 metres wide, measured from half a metre inside the street curb. Sites remain constant from year to year.

 Thompson signed on to the initiative in 2014, and with a more than 60 per cent recorded drop in containers, it would seem that the campaign has been a success in the city.

It would definitely seem that Thompsonites have been paying more attention to litter within the community; the summer of 2015 saw images on social media showing deposits of trash from around the city paired with comments of disgust and disappointment. But for all of the publicity throughout the summer, at a time when litter had supposedly declined, it seemed something was missing.

The MGM report tells the whole story. The audits divide garbage into “small litter” and “large litter,” large litter being anything over 25 cubic centimetres (beverage containers are included in this category). While beverage containers were dramatically reduced, Thompson’s overall large litter rate declined only nine per cent, from 21 pieces per site to 18.7. This is, of course, a positive note nonetheless, and places us slightly below the national average of 21 pieces. The report does note, however, that this average includes large urban centres such as Toronto, Edmonton, and Winnipeg, however, and is therefore relatively high.

The survey also misses an important dynamic of litter in Thompson: of the 25 sites, all were streetside locations. No survey sites included the forested areas and trails which surround the city, and which are regularly used by its residents. Trash is often dumped in forested areas, supposedly out of sight and out of mind; this is particularly visible in the trails running parallel to and away from the Millennium Trail. Street maps may be useful in dense urban areas, but in smaller, less dense communities, it excludes large areas of land from assessment.

All of this isn’t to leave a negative taste in one’s mouth, however. The reduction is there, at least in visible areas, and the reduction in beverage litter suggests that targeted campaigns are an effective method of reduction, raising the hope that future campaigns may do the same. 

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