A cupful of clarity on a beach in Cuba became the reason John Scott started picking up trash in the Don River Valley and later in Beaver Valley.
While vacationing with his family on a “stunningly beautiful beach,” Scott started noticing small, white single-use plastic cups strewn across the sand. One of the cups was rolling back and forth at the water’s edge, riding the edges of the waves that reached the shore.
“I stood there looking at it and I thought, ‘if I don’t do something, that cup is going to go out into the ocean,’ so I picked it up,” said Scott.
The cup might have floated, but the weight of revelation sank deep, and Scott has stayed committed to the work of picking up litter since then.
“That kind of woke me up to this issue … I was never somebody who threw my litter out of my car window, but I never really thought that much about it,” said Scott.
At home in Toronto, he vowed to devote time to cleaning up litter and found the Don’t Mess with the Don group, which organized cleanups and education campaigns to prevent littering in the Don River Valley.
“We picked up 7,000 pounds of garbage on the side of the Don Valley Parkway in about a four-kilometre stretch in one pickup,” said Scott.
Scott became a board member with Don’t Mess with the Don and over five years the group removed over 250,000 pounds of garbage from the Don Valley ravine.
Scott’s work continued when he and his family purchased a part-time home on Grey Road 7 in Grey Highlands in 2011. He’s been a regular visitor to the area, having supported the bid submission to bring the 1997 Special Olympics World Winter Games to Collingwood and was chair of the committee for the games. He likes to run to keep fit, formerly he was a competitive swimmer and still holds the record for swimming across Lake Ontario.
While running on Grey Road 7, he noticed garbage along the sides of the road and enlisted his family’s help to start picking it up.
Since 2019, he has completed 13 clean up days and picked up 1,229 items, which included 244 alcohol containers and 235 beer cans.
It’s probable that most of the trash he’s picked up, including the liquor containers and beer cans, was tossed out the window of a passing vehicle. Grey Road 7 doesn’t get a lot of foot traffic.
“Somebody might say, ‘why is it a problem for me?’” said Scott. “Well it gets into animals and fish and us.”
Trash discarded on a roadside will degrade over time if it’s not picked up, and those parts will make their way into water systems.
The giant patch of garbage in the Pacific Ocean, though size measurements can vary, is about 1.6 million square kilometres, which is about 60 per cent larger than Ontario.
Beyond the larger chunks of garbage making the Pacific Garbage Patch, are microplastics that can travel through water and air unseen, getting into animals and humans. Multiple scientific studies have found microplastics inside fish, animals, human lungs, blood, and digestive systems, and even in the ice in Antarctica.
“Littering is a problem,” said Scott. “Part of what I want to do for, I think, the rest of my life is to devote time to his behavioural change … because I don’t really want to, and I don’t like cleaning up other people’s garbage.”
In the hopes of encouraging more people to be responsible for keeping Beaver Valley clean, Scott did reach out to Walker Industries after he picked up several items of garbage in the area where Walker crews were doing road work on Grey Road 7.
In a letter to Walker, Scott noted the new garbage, particularly crushed plastic bottles on the side of the road. Over three days, he picked up 145 pieces of garbage, including 52 single-use water bottles.
“I am not suggesting all items are from the road crew,” said Scott, noting it was “very likely” some of it was.
In an email response from Walker, which Scott forwarded to CollingwoodToday, a corporate marketing communications coordinator thanked Scott for his letter and his volunteer work, and said the supervisors were told of the complaint and the crew returned to clean up any litter they could find.
Scott has also connected with the volunteers of Keep Collingwood Clean and is looking to connect with other people who have been cleaning up roadsides and ravines in Grey Highlands and the Beaver Valley.
“I would be really open to leading or coordinating some kind of a group, that would be spectacular,” said Scott. “I would love some other people to help.”
He’s also interested in pursuing ideas toward education and awareness in the interest of behavioural change.
“I think people think it’s not their problem, or that someone else is going to take care of the environment and pick up the garbage,” said Scott. “By putting litter into nature, it’s polluting. It’s actually coming back and polluting us … I think there’s this opportunity for more conscious awareness.”
Though he knows change doesn’t happen in a day. He said he would be happy to see someone who is “five out of ten on litter become a six out of ten, and then maybe a seven.”’
If you’d like to join Scott on his mission to keep Beaver Valley clean, you can reach out to him via email at [email protected].