Sudbury

New project to reduce, divert litter from Sudbury's Junction Creek

Two Sudbury groups will see how plastic waste affects one of the city's major waterways. Over the next two years, the Junction Creek Stewardship Committee and Plastic-Free Greater Sudbury will take inventory of all garbage pulled from Junction Creek during cleanups.

Junction Creek Stewardship Committee, Plastic-Free Greater Sudbury to partner on research project, cleanups

This is a 'hot spot' identified by Junction Creek Stewardship Committee, where garbage accumulates along Junction Creek due to downed branches from nearby trees. This is near Martindale Road and Copper Street. (Angela Gemmill/CBC)

Two non-profit groups are working together to study how plastic waste affects one of Greater Sudbury's major waterways.

Junction Creek flows from Garson, through New Sudbury, under the downtown core and then south to Kelly Lake, and eventually into Lake Huron.

It was once called Junk Creek, because of all the 'junk' and garbage found in the waterway.

But for the past 20 years, the Junction Creek Stewardship Committee has been working to restore and revitalize the waterway, and the ecosystem within it.

The stewardship committee has been awarded a government grant to conduct an environmental project over the next two years, called Reducing Plastic Waste in Urban Waterways.

Miranda Virtanen is the executive director of Junction Creek Stewardship Committee in Greater Sudbury (Angela Gemmill/CBC)

Executive director Miranda Virtanen says they've recruited the help of the non-profit group, Plastic-Free Greater Sudbury.

Over the next two years, each time the stewardship committee holds a creek cleanup, volunteers will pull all the garbage they find out of a section of Junction Creek. Then members of Plastic-Free Greater Sudbury will take an inventory of every single item.

"We've found pretty much everything; You name it, it's been in the creek," Virtanen says of the debris their previous cleanups have removed from the waterway. She lists shopping carts, tires, vehicle parts as all common finds.

More than 2,000 kilograms of garbage was removed from Junction Creek during clean-ups in 2018.

Plastic-Free Greater Sudbury has participated in those cleanups since October last year says co-chair Liz Anawati, although their official inventory duty only started a few months ago.

"Literally we put a number to everything they pull out of the creek or from around the creek," she said.

"Single use plastic bags, I can tell you, is the top thing we pull out of there."

Anawati says during a recent cleanup the stewardship committee organized for young students with a local day camp she counted over 100 plastic bags in less than 30 minutes.

"And that's not uncommon," Anawati said.

At a recent cleanup of a section of Junction Creek, members of Plastic-Free Greater Sudbury sort everything into piles, so they can take inventory of all the garbage pulled from the waterway. (Submitted by Plastic-Free Greater Sudbury)

She says the top few items that are frequently pulled out of Junction Creek during cleanups are plastic bags, plastic bottles, candy wrappers, straws and single use coffee cups.

Anawati says trying to educate the public about the environmental problem with single use plastics is trying to connect the problems locally.

"It's difficult for people to conceptualize the problem when it's not in their face," she said.

"So when we take pictures of these piles of plastics put into separate sections and there's numbers attached to them they can say, "Woah that is just down the street from me.'"

Anawati says not a lot of people realize that Junction Creek and other local waterways flow into Lake Huron, and from there into the ocean.

"When we show special creeks that people feel very fond of especially like Junction Creek...I think it makes the issue more front and centre." 

Where are the hot spots?

The data the project collects over the two years will help identify hotspots along the waterway, where garbage tends to build up.

"You don't really see [litter] in the creek unless if you see some branches or trees that are knocked over where it starts accumulating," says Virtanen.

She adds they already know of several spots that need frequent cleaning, including in New Sudbury near the mall, as well as just off Martindale Road near Copper Street where some branches have fallen over.

According to recent inventories conducted by Plastic-Free Greater Sudbury during several cleanups on Junction Creek, food wrappers are one of their most frequent items pulled from the waterway. (Supplied by Plastic-Free Greater Sudbury)

Virtanen says where the garbage in the creek comes from is a combination of sources.

"You still see a lot of people littering, and unfortunately the wind or the rain will blow it around and it eventually does get into the creek, into the watershed."

That garbage has a big impact on the environment, particularly the wildlife.

"Wildlife gets entangled in it, ingests it. It's not good for them, and it's also not good for the water quality itself, which the community relies on...and it's also very unsightly," Virtanen said

Once the two year project is over

As for the goals of the project, both Virtanen and Anawati expect the data they collect will help to tailor their educational programs from their respective groups.

"We'll be able to raise more awareness so that people can then change their habits and do more creek-friendly practices," Virtanen said

"The data can also be used to make recommendations for mitigation strategies, to find ways of reducing the waste from getting into the creek in the first place," she added.

Anawati expects the final report to help the community make better environmental decisions for Greater Sudbury.

"[The report is] going to help inform local leaders and anyone in between, about single use plastic issues and how it's affecting Junction Creek, and our urban system in general," she said.

Most Junction Creek cleanups are conducted by volunteers or other community groups. The stewardship committee's next public clean-up is scheduled for Saturday, Sept 7, at a still to be determined location.

For the past 20 years, the Junction Creek Stewardship Committee has been working to restore and revitalize the waterway and the ecosystem within it. Miranda Virtanen is the executive director of the group. She recently spoke with CBC reporter Angela Gemmill about a two-year project they'll be working on. 7:40

About the Author

Angela Gemmill

Journalist

Angela Gemmill is a CBC journalist who has covered news in Sudbury, Ont., for 13 years. Connect with her on Twitter @AngelaGemmill. Send story ideas to angela.gemmill@cbc.ca

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