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3 volunteers spend hours a week picking up litter in Collingwood

After picking up thousands of cigarette butts, the volunteers behind Keep Collingwood Clean have started a program to collect and recycle them
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.

Three women have made it their mission to keep Collingwood clean, and they’re hoping residents will help, or at least stop littering to give them a fighting chance. 

Jacqui Eger, Sandra Payette, and Mary Ellen Sheffield each had their own habit of picking up trash they came across while riding a bike or walking the trails. That’s how they met and eventually what led to their matching charcoal jackets with red trim and “KEEP COLLINGWOOD CLEAN” pressed in neon yellow across their backs. 

The official jackets and t-shirts help explain why they’re often seen dragging large bags of trash through town to the nearest dumpster. They were purchased with the coins they earn by bringing wine, beer, and liquor bottles collected from streets, parks, alleys, and parking lots back to the Beer Store for deposit money. 

These ladies love Collingwood and hate litter. 

Sheffield said she collects litter seven days a week because she cannot stand the sight of it. She’s cleaned up parking lots, blasted through piles of rubbish stacked against restaurant dumpsters, and picked up hundreds of thousands of cigarette butts from every nook and cranny she can reach. 

She points to photos she’s taken while voluntarily picking up litter from streets, trails, parks, business parking lots and anywhere else she can find it. She has photos of garbage bins overflowing, of parking medians piled with cigarette butts, and of trails lined with disposable coffee cups. They disgust her to tears. 

“I love Collingwood, I was born here and we retired here, and this is not the town that I knew when I was growing up,” said Sheffield. "People used to sweep their front porches."

She always carries a reusable bag, and won’t walk by litter without picking it up and adding it to her bag. 

The three women behind Keep Collingwood Clean, have now started a cigarette butt recycling program. They get large tin sauce cans from a local pizzeria and add their own stickers to them indicating people should put their extinguished cigarette butts in the can instead of on the ground. The cans have been distributed to businesses willing to accept them, and they are emptied regularly by the Keep Collingwood Clean volunteers, then sent via mail to TerraCycle’s Unsmoke recycling program. 

TerraCycle offers free recycling for cigarette butts and the plastic and foil packaging that comes inside the packs of cigarettes. The cigarette waste can be mailed for free by anyone with a TerraCycle account, and it is cleaned and separated then recycled into raw formats manufacturers can use to make new products. Ash and tobacco are composted. 

Eger and Payette say they spend two to three hours a day a few times per week picking up trash in town. Payette has been picking up litter in Collingwood for 14 years, and Eger for the 11 years she’s lived here.

They don’t just stick to public trails and roadsides either, often they will, individually or as a group, clean up a parking lot or a school property. 

“We have to recognize that Collingwood is a resort town and the businesses here prosper well because of the influx of tourism and we need to keep this town attractive to those tourists,” said Eger. “They don’t want to come to a dirty place. And I hope if they come and see it’s clean, they won’t put their garbage either.” 

But more than attracting tourists, Eger said keeping Collingwood clean should be important to everyone who lives here. 

“It’s important wherever you live,” said Eger. “You should take pride in where you live. Presumably, your home is not a pigsty, why would you make your town one?” 

A few of the worst areas end up being Harbourview Park, which tends to collect windblown or dropped litter from the First Street fast food restaurants, and the vacant lands near Black Ash Creek, where a chainlink fence catches litter blown around by the wind. They’ve also collected syringes in Harbourview Park. 

Arguments can be made that the responsibility should fall on the shoulders of volunteers to pick up litter in Collingwood, but for Sheffield, Payette, and Eger, there’s lots of responsibility to go around. 

Eger said the town and local businesses should be putting out, and maintaining, more garbage bins to make sure there’s an option available for people. Especially near trails where dog poop, in a bag or out of it, gets left in piles, particularly in the winter.

Sheffield wants businesses and the town to do more cleaning up and maintaining of grounds to keep the town looking nice. 

Payette said public participation is necessary. 

“People will see us cleaning and say, ‘thank you for doing this,’ we get a lot of ‘thank yous.’ So then we reply with, ‘all you have to do is take a bag with you when you walk and pick up three things … just three little things,’” said Payette.  

Even better, the three volunteers would like to see a day when the litter doesn’t have to be picked up because there isn’t any. 

“Yes, I’m glad to be doing it, but I’d be happier if I didn’t have to because people weren’t littering,” said Eger. “If you can’t be part of the solution at least don’t be part of the problem.”

For those who would like to be “part of the solution” the Keep Collingwood Clean team is eager to welcome new volunteers and support. 

You can visit their Facebook page at Keep Collingwood Clean, or you can email [email protected]

The Town of Collingwood offers free supplies including gloves and trash bags for anyone wishing to pick up litter in public spaces. You can also report illegal dumping to the town for investigation and response. You can email [email protected] for information on community clean-up supplies and reporting illegal dumping.

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Erika Engel

About the Author: Erika Engel

Erika regularly covers all things news in Collingwood as a reporter and editor. She has 15 years of experience as a local journalist
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