Sherbrooke river more than 600 pounds lighter after citizen clean-up

Lead pipes, grocery carts and tires were dragged out of the Saint-François River this week, as part of a province-wide effort called Mission 10 tonnes.

Lead pipes, grocery carts and tires dragged out of Saint-François River as part of Quebec-wide effort

The head of Mission 10 tonnes, Jimmy Vigneux (front centre), helped volunteers in Sherbrooke drag 628 pounds of trash from the Saint-François River. (Submitted by Mission 10 tonnes)

Simon Rancourt waded into the Saint-François River this week, equipped with a white bucket, expecting to pick up some beer bottles and plastic bags.

"I came out with a shopping cart," said Rancourt.

He was part of a group of nearly 30 people who signed up for the clean-up effort in Sherbrooke on Tuesday.

They ended up pulling 631 pounds of garbage from the river — from lead pipes, to tires, to old bicycles.

Their treasure hunt was the latest in a province-wide campaign, launched in the spring of 2018, called Mission 10 tonnes.

Each region has its own kind of waste, said marine biologist Lyne Morissette. For example, these lobster claw elastics are 'devastating' beaches on the Magdalen Islands, she said. (Submitted by Mission 10 tonnes)

Seventy-five days after its launch, the campaign surpassed its objective — it has now pulled 12 tonnes of waste from waterways across Quebec and abroad, with participants also taking part in Europe and South America.

"I think there's nothing better than a citizen in action to change things," said Rancourt, who signed up because he said he was tired of only hearing people complain about pollution without doing anything about it.

Part of a movement

That push for concrete action is also what brought Jimmy Vigneux to launch Mission 10 tonnes.

As a participant in the C3 Expedition across the Arctic in 2017, Vigneux witnessed first-hand how pollution, and plastics in particular, are leaving a mark on oceans and marine life.

"I have three kids; I want to do everything I can to leave them a planet that is going in the right direction."

A clean-up crew in Longueuil found a small swimming pool, construction materials and bicycles on the shores of the St. Lawrence River. (Submitted by Mission 10 tonnes)

Vigneux said by posting articles on social media that depicted catastrophic environmental problems, he didn't feel he was contributing to any positive change.

Instead, he decided to set a tangible goal that people could wrap their heads around.

"There's a movement, people are on board. We feel there is really a push toward this citizen action," he said.

Straying away from 'doom and gloom'

To launch the project, Vigneux reached out to the chief scientist on his expedition, marine biologist Lyne Morrissette.

She said the recipe for conservation awareness hadn't changed for decades — identify a problem, raise awareness, take action.

But with complex problems and an endless stream of information circulating online, that formula isn't working any longer, Morissette said.

"People just give up. Doom and gloom? It doesn't work anymore."

By focusing on success stories, like Mission 10 tonnes, Morissette said it is easier to reach out and get people on board.

The positive response the project has garnered from citizens across Quebec, and beyond its borders, is proof, she said.

Volunteers in Shawinigan, Que., hauled 150 tires out of the Bellevue-Lavergne stream on July 18. (Submitted by Mission 10 Tonnes)

"It started small, but it made such a big wave [on] social media that we have people from everywhere who want to take part."

World Cleanup Day

Every region in Quebec has its own "trash specialty," Morissette said.

Elastics used for lobster claws are spread over beaches on the Magdalen Islands, while cars and bikes lay abandoned at the bottom of waterways near Montreal.

She hopes people across these regions will take part in the final event of the project's 2018 season, on Sept. 15.

"Ten tonnes won't solve everything; we want to go on and do something more," she said.

The date coincides with World Cleanup Day, a global initiative to clean up litter and waste from beaches, rivers, forests, and streets.

Morissette said the group will mark the occasion by launching the second phase of its project, but she said she couldn't reveal what that entails just yet.

"We want to go to the next level."