The dangers of smoking, to both smokers and those who inhale second-hand smoke, are well documented.
But cigarettes can still be deadly long after the tobacco products have been doused.
That’s why cigarette butts are targeted, along with many other forms of garbage, in the shoreline cleanup events organized by the Helen Schuler Nature Centre and conducted in the Oldman River valley.
A cigarette butt, “once it gets dirty, looks like food and a fish or a bird is going to eat it,” said Curtis Goodman, resource development co-ordinator with the Nature Centre.
“It can really wreak havoc and can lead to death. That’s one reason I’m so passionate about shoreline cleanup and how we can solve this problem.”
The Nature Centre’s next shoreline cleanup is scheduled to take place Aug. 26 from 1-3 p.m., this time in the Elizabeth Hall Wetlands. Volunteers are asked to meet in the Wetlands parking lot. Bags and gloves will be provided.
It’s one of several cleanup events the Nature Centre conducts during the course of the year in conjunction with the Oldman Watershed Council. Another will be held Sept. 30 at Botterill Bottom Park.
The July cleanup was held in the Nature Reserve Park and the June event targeted Indian Battle Park Beach.
The cleanups are part of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup program spearheaded by the Vancouver Aquarium and the World Wildlife Fund. The program’s website, http://shorelinecleanup.ca/, notes that so far in 2017, program volunteers have conducted 957 cleanups and collected 27,672 kilograms of litter along 1,774 kilometres of Canadian shoreline.
Locally, the shoreline cleanups have been conducted for the past five or six years and volunteer numbers are climbing. The Nature Centre’s cleanup events attracted 85 participants last year, and this year the cleanups have seen 122 volunteers come forward to help.
The types of garbage collected during the cleanups are recorded and the information passed along to the Vancouver Aquarium for inclusion in the national database. The statistics show that cigarette butts — 1,370 of them so far this year in Lethbridge — account for 40 to 50 per cent of the items picked up, while food wrappers amount to about 25 per cent of the trash.
The data indicates that “70 per cent of shoreline litter is two items,” said Goodman, adding the numbers help organizers in determining “what we can do to effect behaviour change with people that are smokers and people who are enjoying fast food in the river valley.”
A major weapon is education. Goodman noted one volunteer, who also happened to be a smoker, was stunned to discover the amount of cigarette butts discarded in the river valley. “They thought they (cigarette butts) were biodegradable.”
“This person is now an advocate to other smokers,” Goodman added.
Goodman pointed out the past seven shoreline cleanups in Lethbridge have picked up 2,593 items of garbage. The positive aspect is that, as time goes on, “we’re finding less of certain types of garbage,” such as broken glass.
“I’ve been cut on the foot by glass at the river before and it’s not a fun experience for anybody,” said Goodman.
It isn’t only garbage discarded in the river valley that is a problem in the valley. Goodman points out that items which are washed into the city’s storm drain system are likely to wind up in the river.
“When somebody empties their ashtray into the gutter, it will end up in the river. It’s just a matter of time.”
Goodman said citizens can help keep the river and the river valley clean from within their own yards. If they do that, “I predict you will find a lot less garbage in the river valley.”
Besides the official cleanup events organized by the Nature Centre, other volunteer groups are encouraged to carry out their own cleanup efforts, and the Nature Centre is happy to provide them with bags and gloves with which to do the work.
“It takes a community to look after a community,” said Goodman. He added the research indicates that when there is garbage in natural spaces, “people are more likely to add or contribute to it. When an area is free of garbage, people are a lot less likely to introduce garbage to it.”
And people are more likely to keep natural areas clean when they feel an appreciation for and a connection to those areas.
Goodman said in citizen satisfaction surveys, “the river valley is often the No. 1 thing people point to as what they love about Lethbridge.”
The river valley offers citizens a true natural treasure — a nearby place to escape the noise and busyness of everyday urban life and enjoy the beauty of nature. And a clean, well-cared-for river valley is a more pleasant place to spend time.
For more information about the Nature Centre’s cleanup events, visit the website at http://www.lethbridge.ca/Things-To-Do/Nature-Centre/Pages/Get-Involved.aspx or phone the centre at 403-320-3064.