Garbage pickers in eastern P.E.I. clean roads, beaches year-round

A group called the Northside Pickers has inspired the Souris wildlife group to put together a map of local residents who have agreed to "adopt" a stretch of road and keep it clean year-round.

'I love it because it gives me a purpose when I go out to walk'

Marion Harris, left, and Brenda White spend time picking up trash on the beach at Johnson Shore as well as along the roads. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

They call themselves the Northside Pickers and their efforts at gathering up garbage in eastern P.E.I. have inspired people in their area to do more.

It all started when Marion Harris, Anne Lutz, Louise Deagle, and Dave and Brenda White decided they had to something about the garbage they were seeing during their daily walks.

People know what they're doing is not right. I just really honestly don't think they care.— Brenda White

"When I come to P.E.I. and I see the beautiful ocean and the beautiful tree-lined highways, I can't imagine someone wanting to litter them," said Brenda White, who moved to the Island last year from Ontario.

"It breaks my heart, so we pick up the garbage to keep this place looking beautiful the way it is."

The Souris and Area Branch of the P.E.I. Wildlife Federation is now putting together a map of local residents who have agreed to "adopt" a stretch of road and keep it clean year-round.

'People just pitch it'

White and her husband were walking along the highway near their home when they noticed the garbage, and started bringing bags to pick it up.

The Northside Pickers take the recyclables to the local depot and say they plan to start donating the money they make to a worthy cause. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

They met others in the area doing the same thing, and the Northside Pickers were born.

"Anything from coffee cups, beer cans down at the beach here, there's a lot of netting that can be dangerous to the wildlife," White said.

"Styrofoam, you name it, people just pitch it and I can't understand why."

White said the amount of garbage they find usually increases after a long weekend.

The Northside Pickers have already taken away a truckload of waste from this beach at Johnson Shore. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"My husband, I always call him the ditch diver because he goes right down into the gullies and he gets the garbage," White said.

"What you see from the roadway when you're driving is nothing compared to what's down in the gullies."

Regular route

The Northside Pickers take the recyclables to the local depot and plan to start donating the money they make to a worthy cause.

'We need to leave it clean and safe for the people that are coming behind us,' says Brenda White of why she enjoys picking up others' trash. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

The Souris wildlife group has offered to get the members safety vests, which they said they appreciate, especially since some stretches of the highway have busy traffic.

White estimates they cover one to two kilometres on every walk, stopping to pick up trash along the way.

"People know what they're doing is not right. I just really honestly don't think they care," White said. "That somebody like us, the Northside Pickers, will be there to clean up after them and that's not the way it should be."

Harris says picking up trash gives a purpose to her walks. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Marion Harris is happy the idea is catching on.

"I'm really excited because first of all we're getting exercise," Harris said. "Second of all, we're cleaning our environment and third of all, it's just more pleasing to drive down a road that isn't littered with garbage."

More organized clean-up

The Souris wildlife group says there are other groups and individuals who already go around and pick up litter in the area, but there has been more interest since the story of the Northside Pickers was shared in the group's newsletter.

Frances Braceland with the Souris and Area branch of the P.E.I. Wildlife Federation says some people may not want to pay waste disposal fees so they dump their trash in isolated spots like this woodlot. (Frances Braceland)

"I think it's incentivized people to go out and do a bit more and become a bit more organized in what they do," said Frances Braceland, project manager for the Souris and Area branch of the P.E.I. Wildlife Federation.

"Letting us know about it so we can try and make a map and get an idea of what areas are being covered."

Braceland estimates 30 to 40 percent of the wildlife group's management area is currently being cleaned up regularly.

"In terms of the beauty of the area, especially when P.E.I. relies so much on tourism, to make sure that the area looks nice is very very important," Braceland said.

'A huge eyesore'

Braceland also worries about the impact of trash on wildlife.

The Northside Pickers say they return to the beach with a truck once they've collected a pile of trash. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"You see stories all the time about animals getting their head stuck in plastic ring pulls," Braceland said. "You can end up poisoning animals as well, especially if it's anything alcoholic. You don't want to cause any issues to the wildlife out there."

Braceland said there are a problem spots in the area where people just dump things.

"I guess the fees for taking things to the dump might be a problem, people don't want to pay the waste disposal fees," Braceland said. 

Plastic bottles, coffee cup lids, rope and lobster traps are among the regular items the pickers collect at Johnson Shore. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"It might just be easier to go and drop it off the back of a truck somewhere but it's a huge eyesore."

The Souris wildlife group has also created some new waste containers that they've placed at some beaches and other popular tourist spots where they are having problems with litter getting dumped.

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About the Author

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog.


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