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Volunteers still keeping Collingwood clean asking for help

The women behind Keep Collingwood Clean have organized Earth Day challenges, and put out a call to the community to join the cause
Mary Ellen Sheffield, Jacqui Eger and Sandra Payette are the three volunteers who formed Keep Collingwood Clean, and now spend hours every week picking up litter, dog poop, and cigarette butts from Collingwood's streets, trails, alleys, parks, and parking lots.

After parking downtown for an appointment, Kathleen Wilkinson stooped down to pick up two Tim Hortons coffee cups and two Starbucks iced drink cups from the ground by the curb and toss them into one of the bags she keeps with her for such a task. 

"A young man watched me and said 'you're making me feel guilty,'" said Wilkinson. A few moments later from down the street, he called out to her and held up a bag of his own, full of trash he picked up from an alley. "I've done my part today," he told her. 

"He saw me picking up garbage, so he did," said Wilkinson, hoping the leading-by-example approach will inspire others. 

Indeed Wilkinson, and fellow Keep Collingwood Clean members, Sandra Payette, Mary Ellen Sheffield, and Jacqui Eger, are leading by example as they return time and again to the same spots in town picking up trash left behind by others. 

They collect and sort trash found in business parking lots, along Collingwood trails, on the shore of rivers and Georgian Bay, and just about anywhere else they find litter. All of them take bags with them anytime they walk, and none walk by litter on the ground. 

Since the launch of their grassroots effort to collect and recycle cigarette butts in specially labelled cans donated by a local pizza shop, the group has sent 300 pounds of cigarette butts to TerraCycle. In return, TerraCycle has donated $300 to Collingwood's Heritage Community Church. The group anticipates being able to recycle 600 pounds of butts a year. 

Bags and bags of aluminum cans collected get taken to a scrap yard for trade-in. Alcohol and beer containers are taken to the beer store for the deposit program. A company in Quebec has sent them a bulk order of dog poop bags for the waste left behind on trails and sidewalks.

The ladies are doing the work for the good of Collingwood, but admit it can be "disheartening" to return to a place they have cleaned, only for it to look like no work was done at all. 

That's why they're reaching out to the community to help them do the work of keeping Collingwood clean. 

In honour of Earth Day, the group is sending a letter to all the schools in Collingwood challenging them to have schoolyard clean-ups on April 21. The school with the highest percentage of participants will receive a $100 donation from the Keep Collingwood Clean group as well as certificates for participants to recognize their work. 

The group is also issuing a challenge to local businesses, many of whom benefit from the Keep Collingwood Clean volunteers who will clean up parking lots and around shops without being asked and without payment. 

To the business community, the group issued one short message: "Earth Day is every day."

A letter going out to businesses asks them to "do their part" by keeping their properties free of litter. 

"People come out on Earth Day," said Eger, referring to community clean-up days. "But they need to see Earth Day is every day." 

When she's out collecting trash and wearing her team jacket emblazoned with a neon 'KEEP COLLINGWOOD CLEAN' label on the back, she gets an occasional "thank you" from a stranger. 

"I say, 'I wish it wasn't necessary, and feel free to join in,'" said Eger. 

She'll be delivering the same message on April 15 in front of the federal building on Hurontario Street at noon where the Keep Collingwood Clean will be hosting an information and recruitment event. They'll be asking residents to commit to cleaning up for two hours a month, whether that's a few minutes a day while they're walking their dog, or all in one go. 

"We'll be saying this is what's happening and this is what you can do to stop it," said Eger, noting she'll be starting a list of people who make the commitment and trying to organize a street or section of trail where they will be cleaning up regularly. 

"We need this town to look good," said Eger. 

Sheffield said she's been cleaning up at times and had tourists approach her to let her know where the "bad spots" are in town. 

"We've got the ball rolling, come join us," said Eger. 

For more information or to support and join the work of the Keep Collingwood Clean group, email [email protected], and follow their Facebook page here.