I am writing in response to the article, “Litter Bugs” in the December/January edition. It is refreshing that your magazine continues to present topics that from time to time get buried away in our sub-conscience. Litter is one of those nagging issues that warrants revisiting occasionally, and Solid Waste & Recycling is a good forum in which to do this.
Usman Valiante’s article is helpful in reminding readers that litter is a problem. In fact the problem is important enough that Works Committee, of the City of Toronto has resolved to reduce litter in the City by 50 per cent by 2007. That commitment shows leadership on this issue by Canada’s largest metropolis.
However, the author is wrong on several counts in his comments about Toronto’s litter audit. He takes a pre-conceived view that the litter survey that the City of Toronto conducted in 2002 was in some way biased towards commercial interests. In reality, the Toronto was very careful to choose a method of counting litter that specifically removes as much human bias as possible. Sites were randomly selected by computer and surveyors had no discretion in site locations. The City used its own university student employees, not surveyor’s chosen by any commercial interest, to be the auditors. Our firm was chosen to manage the work by a multi-sectoral sub-committee of the Works Committee — the Clean Streets Working Group — to insure that no sector influences occurred. The Clean Streets Working Group approved the methodology and the conclusions of the study. Those findings are based upon simple observations — they are based upon the items surveyors counted on the ground at each of the 247 sites.
Mr. Valiante suggests that counting items of litter is inappropriate, and that surveys should report results by either weight or volume. We disagree. Our streets are not too heavy with the litter thrown on them — they are too messy. Municipalities spend money picking up pieces of litter; they don’t much care about the volume or the weight of it. The cost for them is in sending out equipment and human resources to physically pick up the trashed items that people have dropped on our streets.
The City of Toronto plans to change the behaviour of persons that litter. Experience has proven that behavioral change can be very effective. As reported at the RCO Conference in September by EnviroMedia, the firm that manages the Don’t Mess with Texas Program in that state, a reduction in littering of over 52 per cent in general littering and a 70 per cent reduction in tobacco litter since 1995, was achieved using behavioural change techniques. Knowing who litters, why they do it and changing their behaviour triggers will reduce this problem over time. No one type of litter is to blame for the overall problem and cost to taxpayers of indiscriminant littering. We have to get to the root cause of the problem and use the well-established concept of “reduction” — to reduce littering of our streets in the first place.
Nova Scotia Environment & Labour conducted a litter audit in 1998. We counted by type and brand name. PEI also completed a roadside litter study last year. Very interesting results. Other provinces have also completed surveys. My point is this — you are too Ontario focussed. The article starts great but ends up just complaining about Toronto’s litter study. Our data and PEI’s alone would have helped add validity to the article.
I know that Usman Valiante doesn’t just write about Ontario, but in this one, he spent far too much time (half the article) just slamming the mistakes Toronto made in doing their study. (I’m not so sure they were mistakes rather than a political problem — our study almost got canned, too.)
When it comes to the stewardship examples, we need balance from the whole country.
Solid Waste-Resource Manager
Nova Scotia Environment and Labour