'Grab a bag and clean up after yourselves,' Beachers ask visitors and locals

Over the last few weeks, several community members in the Beach worked together to build the 11 bag stations, which they’ll be unveiling and setting up Saturday in an effort to curb litter. They'll also hold a community shoreline clean up.

Group of residents will unveil 11 bag stations at Woodbine Beach Saturday

Members of the cleanup project, from left to right, John Smith, Tess Smith, Megan Toushek, David Toushek and Dora Attard, hold up their bag dispensers. (David Toushek)

In many city parks, pet owners can find publicly available bag stations near garbage cans, giving them an easy way to pick up after their dogs.

Wanting to find a long term solution for garbage along Woodbine Beach, local resident David Toushek decided he'd apply the same simple approach to litter, setting up boxes with bags along the beach so visitors can pick up their litter rather than just leave it behind.

"Somehow, we've created a culture where at our beach in particular, but not exclusive, people seem to think it's okay just to leave their garbage lying around," he said.

Over the last few weeks, Toushek and several other community members worked together to build the 11 bag stations, which they'll be unveiling and setting up Saturday ahead of a community shoreline cleanup.

"The project with the boxes is a way to ... try to change that culture to say, 'We don't do that here. It's not okay. Grab a bag and clean up after yourselves.'"

Although the Lake Shore Boulevard East hotspot is designated blue flag beach, which means it meets high water quality and environmental standards, Toushek said it's consistently covered in garbage.

Residents and children in the Beach neighbourhood designed 11 boxes to house the bags, meant to encourage those who enjoy Woodbine Beach to clean up their litter. (Dora Attard)

The idea is simple: Residents grab a bag on their way to the beach, giving them an easy place to discard their own trash as well as anything else they may see along the way.

Then, they deposit the bags at a garbage or recycling station along the boardwalk when they leave.

"The idea is just leave the beach cleaner than you found it," Toushek said. "If we all do that then we're changing the culture and we're taking ownership of our beach."

Lake Ontario and litter

Fellow Beach resident Dora Attard offered her services to help build the stations after raising awareness about beach litter this past summer.

Attard collected garbage found at Woodbine Beach, turning the tossed water bottles, coffee cups and straws into art installations displayed at Balmy Beach in August. (Dora Attard)

"People always say, 'Oh, somebody's got to do something about this.' So we're the ones that did something about it, you know. It's an idea, and if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. But at least we tried."

Similarly, Environmental Defence ran their own cleanup of Woodbine Beach in August, and in one morning, 53 volunteers removed 50 kilograms, or 110 pounds, of garbage, including 2,100 cigarette butts, 4,000 small pieces of plastic and 210 bottle caps.

"It's a problem at some of the most well-maintained beaches, it's a problem across the Great Lakes," said Kelsey Scarfone, program manager with Environmental Defence. "There's actually 10,000 tonnes of plastic pollution entering the Great Lakes every year."

Especially concerning, when that plastic breaks down into small fragments.

Attard says she commonly finds these items along Woodbine Beach. In August, she spent months picking them up and storing them in her basement for art installations. (Dora Attard)

"Plastic's showing up in fish," Scarfone said.

"There's plastic showing up all through the water in different sizes, some that we can't even see with the naked eye. So it really is kind of like a smog of tiny plastic fragments through the lake."

That's why community efforts like the bag stations are so important, she said.

"I really congratulate these groups for taking that time and especially finding ways to make it even more accessible for people visiting the beach."

Scarfone speaks to a crowd at a shoreline clean-up in August 2018. (Shayna Markowitz/Bluetail Creative)

One of the reasons these stations are needed, Attard said, is waste bins aren't located on the beach — most sit along the boardwalk — leading some people to leave their garbage behind.

Brad Bradford, the new city councillor for Beaches-East York, has been helping the residents "informally navigate the city's requirements" to start the bag project.

Coun. Brad Bradford stopped in to help his constituents build the bag boxes last weekend. (Dora Attard)

"This will just make sure that people, in a really grassroots way, have something there to help them keep the beach clean," he said.

"It's great to see these residents and these neighbours come together to not just talk about it, but actually do something."

'Anybody can do it'

Attard said around this time of year, there isn't much garbage, but they're launching the project in January so it's set up in time for the annual winter stations art exhibits.

"A lot of people come, which is great for the neighborhood, but ... a lot of people kind of just throw their stuff around," she said, adding coffee cups are the biggest problem during the exhibits.

Beach residents, including their children, gathered the first weekend of January to build the boxes. (David Toushek)

These simple projects are something anyone could start up, according to Toushek.

Besides the dog bags, he said he also found inspiration in a Facebook post from his cousin, who'd picked up a bag full of garbage from his local park.

"Anybody can do it," he said.

"People will just walk by the garbage and kind of look out and go, 'This sucks. This is garbage. It's disgusting' … but then at some point I just said, 'You know what? I'm going to be part of the solution."

About the Author

Taylor Simmons

Associate Producer, CBC Toronto

Taylor Simmons works in all areas of the CBC Toronto newsroom, from writing for the website to producing TV and radio stories. Taylor grew up in Mississauga, Ont. and studied journalism at Western University. You can reach her at taylor.simmons@cbc.ca.