Nova Scotia

Laid off and restless, this man picked up a hobby that's complete garbage

A Dartmouth, N.S., man who was laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic has, like many people, picked up a hobby. But his new pastime has him saving the environment — one bag of litter at a time.

Greg Patterson starting walking in his community to get exercise, then he started cleaning up litter

Greg Patterson started collecting trash while out for his daily walks following a 14-day self-isolation. (Greg Patterson/Facebook)

A Dartmouth, N.S., man who was laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic has, like many people, picked up a hobby. But his new pastime has him saving the environment — one bag of litter at a time.

Greg Patterson was on a family trip to Scotland when Canada started seeing its first cases of COVID-19. When he returned, he was required to self-isolate for 14 days. He was then laid off from his sales job in the auto industry.

After two weeks of being stuck in his home and with no job to go back to, Patterson was restless.

When his isolation ended on April 1, he went for a walk to get some fresh air and exercise, and that's when he noticed trash littering the roadsides of his community near the Shearwater air base.

The following day he started picking it up. Now, two weeks later, Patterson said he's addicted to his new hobby.

"I noticed [the litter] before when I drove past, but then once I went for a walk, I really noticed it," he said.

"It was right there in front of me. So I said, 'Maybe there's something I can do about it as opposed to driving by it,' and now I like noticing the difference when I drive past."

Patterson said he now sets aside two hours a day to go for a walk and usually picks up about two or three bags of litter.

So far, he's collected about 35 large bags. He said he's been seeing more medical gear like masks and gloves, but it's mostly trash from fast food restaurants.

"I had way too much free time on my hands and I enjoy doing it," he said. "It's taken on a life of its own."

Patterson said he was inspired by the people he's seen picking up litter on the side of the road over the years.

Now, he hopes he's inspiring others to do the same.

"If two people decide [to do this] from seeing me doing it, the more the merrier," he said. "It's a great thing, and something I feel good about doing."

Since he's started his daily litter cleanup, Patterson has learned of other initiatives doing similar work.

Patterson usually sets aside two hours a day to clean up litter around his community. (Greg Patterson/Facebook)

The Nova Scotia One Garbage Bag Challenge asks people to go for a walk and collect at least one bag of litter along the way. That initiative started a few days before Patterson began his daily walks.

"When I started out doing this, I didn't imagine it would spiral into this, but it's a good thing," he said. "There's lots of other people that are out there doing it … and it's great and it makes me feel good."

The Halifax Regional Municipality is still continuing with its annual spring cleanup despite the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the municipality website, crews are working to clean up litter, remove downed branches and other winter debris.

However, Nova Scotia Adopt-A-Highway has delayed its annual Great Nova Scotia Pick-Me-Up program, which has volunteers clean up litter across the province.

The cleanup of parks, trails, beaches and roads was set to start on April 1, but was delayed until May 1 due to COVID-19 concerns.

Patterson said he plans to keep cleaning up litter even after the pandemic is over and he goes back to work. (Greg Patterson/Facebook)

Amy Langille, the program manager of Adopt-A-Highway, said the program doesn't want to put volunteers at risk. But when it starts back up, they will be looking for people to help out.

"We really want people to sign up and help the province and perform a cleanup whether it's small or big," Langille said.

"We always say, 'Every litter bit helps,' so any time we pick up any piece of litter, it's helping the environment, tourism and wildlife, and making the province better and we really appreciate that."

Taking precautions

Patterson said the planet is healing as people stay in their homes and reduce the amount of pollution around the globe, and he's just doing his part.

But he's also taking precautions to avoid contracting the virus. He uses thick, industrial rubber gloves and a garbage picking tool.

Patterson said even after the pandemic is over and he goes back to work, he wants to continue with his new hobby.

"We all have time on our hands now," he said. "But even once I don't have time on my hands, I'm going to make time to do this."

About the Author

Cassidy Chisholm is a web writer from New Brunswick who is now sharing stories at CBC Nova Scotia. She can be reached at cassidy.chisholm@cbc.ca.

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