Nova Scotia

Cole Harbour woman on COVID-19 cleanup mission

Cole Harbour's Sylvie Thériault has made it her mission to do something about the pandemic-related litter she sees in her neighbourhood.

Sylvie Thériault is collecting discarded masks, other items littering her neighbourhood

Sylvie Thériault has made it her mission to pick up discarded masks and other items along Cole Harbour trails. (Stephanie Blanchet/CBC)

Face masks and other personal protection have become a part of everyday life as people try to stay safe and protect others during the pandemic. 

But they are becoming a big problem for the environment when they are disposed of carelessly. 

Sylvie Thériault of Cole Harbour, N.S., has made it her mission to do something about the litter related to COVID-19 she sees in her neighbourhood.

She said she loves to walk the trails in her neighbourhood and often takes her camera with her. The crisp autumn air and the sights and smells of nature help her to relax.

But, for the past few months, the litter she sees on her walks has been anything but relaxing.

"It became almost like a stressor because I was seeing the blue surgical masks laying around in the environment along my walks, and I was thinking I should pick that up," she said.

She said she always carried a bag with her on her walks to pick up discarded cans and water bottles so she decided to take an extra bag for her new target.

Sylvie Thériault has picked up 169 masks of various types during her walks in Cole Harbour. (Sylvie Thériault)

She started collecting the trash on Oct. 26. In her last five walks, she has collected 169 masks of various types, 44 rubber or plastic gloves, two hairnets and two beard nets. 

Winter worries

She worries that the problem will only get worse with winter coming.

"Plows are going to be coming by, they're going to be stuck in snow. And these things don't biodegrade," she said. 

She said if people don't start picking up after themselves things are "going to be ugly."

Michael McFadden, chair of the Cole Harbour Parks and Trails Association, said his members have also noticed an increase in discarded surgical masks along trails in the area.

He said he's heartened that members of the community like Thériault are working to keep a clean environment.

"It's everyone's responsibility ... not to pollute, but when they see pollution to do something about it," he said.

He asked that people be careful about how they handle the items they pick up and not endanger themselves by venturing into treacherous areas.

Taking precautions

Although there is no evidence that picking up masks and gloves poses a significant health risk, Thériault said the potential danger crossed her mind. 

She said she is taking some precautions just in case.

"I started wearing rubber gloves the first day ... and I acquired a pair of tongs to pick them up as well," she said.

She said after she gets home and counts her daily haul, she gets to work sanitizing.

Thériault hopes that people will become more mindful about disposing masks and gloves, but she will continue her work in the meantime.

"I'm not finished," she said. "I'm going to keep on picking up as much as I can."



Vernon Ramesar


Vernon Ramesar is a reporter and video and radio journalist originally based in Trinidad. He now lives in Halifax.

With files from Stephanie Blanchet