Join the International Litter Watch

Text reading, "Join the International Litter Watch," is overlaid on an image of a New York city building.

Sometimes you need an escape from Big City Living, and sometimes you travel from one big city to an even bigger city.

I was in New York recently, and one of the first stops I made on my visit was the High Line, a railroad turned public park in Chelsea.

The last train ran on the High Line in 1980, and the first section of the park opened to the public in 2009. The whole thing is now complete, and makes for a beautiful escape amidst the bustle of New York city.

Usually when I visit any place, I mentally assess it against various criteria. One of them is access to green space and public parks or nature.

New York actually does this quite well, and walking along the High Line had me wishing Toronto had something similar. I was so impressed that a city such as New York, popular for being popular, and just seriously busy, would have these types of public spaces.

So now that it’s all in context, I’m sure you can imagine how a normally shy person like me could completely lose their filter upon seeing a woman ever so nonchalantly litter right into the garden on the High Line.

I saw it out of the corner of my eye, gave myself whiplash in turning in her direction, and asking, “Did you just litter?!”

“It’s just a popsicle,” she said. She was with someone who was very clearly her daughter, who was observing the whole exchange silently. I couldn’t tell if they were locals or tourists.

As if it’s really JUST a popsicle. Okay, sure, the stick is wood, and the popsicle itself will melt, but how long will the stick be there before it starts to decompose? What if an animal chokes on it? And that’s all beside the point. There are trash bins just a short walk away, and it’s really about the principle of just discarding things into the environment as if it doesn’t matter.

“I think you should pick it up and throw it out,” I said, already too committed to just back away slowly and be on my merry way.

“Okay, I’ll do that,” she responded, with attitude.

Well, good then, I thought. My partner and I didn’t stick around to watch her and make sure she did it. We saw her bend down to pick it up, and that’s when we turned to continue our walk.

Not long after, the very same woman stormed passed us on her way to the garbage and recycling bins. As she dropped her remaining popsicle and stick into the bin, she asks, rhetorically obviously, “Is this okay?”

Yes, it is, actually.

Although, we realized a split second after that it was actually the WRONG bin, so it was only kind of okay.

So. I said something and now I’m that person, but you know what? I’m okay with that.

If nobody ever cares to speak up about litter and pollution, no one will care to change their behaviour. Sure, this might have been one really small thing in the grand scheme of things, but little things add up.

Maybe this woman will remember this exchange, and the next time she wants to just drop something in the grass or in a park or on the street, she’ll think twice. Maybe she won’t.

But we only have one planet (for now, anyway). This is it. We either care to protect it and sustain it, and ourselves, or we don’t.

A popsicle stick is not a plastic wrapper. I know that. But it’s the principle of being careless toward our cities, our parks, and our public spaces. We have to care. And every little action, every little choice, adds up.

I don’t know how to fix the whole world, but maybe we all just start small, and see where that takes us.

Have you ever spoken up to a stranger when you saw something a little or a lot wrong?


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