Our monthly challenge to go plogging for 30 minutes a week is up, and we're sharing our results with you. How did we do? What did we learn? We'll also be getting down to the shocking stats about litter and how it ends up in our environment. But - it doesn't have to be this way. Plogging does have a positive impact, and it becomes even stronger when more people do it.
Our 31 Days of Plogging with LEN Challenge in a nutshell: go plogging (jogging + picking up litter) for 30 minutes each week for 1 month. The term for this activity, 'plogging', was coined in Sweden, but people are plogging everywhere - including right here in London, ON.
We'd like to thank Zero Waste Forest City and Twitter user @ssh_peace for sharing their plogging trips with us on social media!
Where Does Litter Come From?
It comes from us. We create the demand for these items, we produce them, we use them, and we throw them away - directly onto the ground. The average person takes about 12 steps holding their trash before they litter - which has disastrous effects on the environment.
The most common group of litter affecting our environment (and especially our water systems) is tiny plastics. In 2017, the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup cleaned up 333,289 pieces of tiny plastic from all types of shorelines, including oceans, lakes, rivers and wetlands.
Tiny plastics (small chunks, beads, and shards of plastic from various sources) typically take hundreds of years to decompose, leach chemicals and small particles into our waterways and soils, and are accidentally consumed by wildlife in both marine and terrestrial environments, all of which results in accumulation of toxic chemicals and plastic pieces in the food chain. By #PloggingWithLEN, we are picking up the trash early on and preventing them from breaking into smaller microplastics in the environment!
The Journey of Litter
Each week, we learned something new about plogging and the trash we collected. With each piece of litter picked up, we wondered about its lifecycle - that is, the product's journey from design, production, distribution, use, and disposal.
Unfortunately, most products are designed to be single-use or "convenience" items made of plastic. This means that a lot of energy (read: fossil fuels) goes into the production and distribution of products that are used only once:
In 2016, world plastics production totalled around 335 million metric tons. Roughly half of the annual plastic production is destined for a single-use product.
What might be worse than this truth is what happens after these single-use items are littered or thrown into the landfill: these items take hundreds of years to break down, and they never fully do. Instead, they break up into smaller pieces of plastic (microplastics) which contaminates waterways, soils, wildlife, and eventually, us. This is a very brief overview of plastic pollution - if you want to learn more, we suggest you check out this Earth Day Fact Sheet, the Plastic Pollution Coalition Website, and more locally, get connected with our LEN member Zero Waste Forest City to reduce single-use plastics in your life!
What Did We Learn?
Each week, we went #PloggingWithLEN around the neighbourhood and sorted the litter at home. Here's what we found:
WEEK 1: 2 candy wrappers, 2 plastic straws, a paper food bag, and a wristband
- With this finding, we realized that most littered items were single-use items. This highlights how often convenience takes precedence over the environment. What can be done about this? We can reduce our use of single-use items such as plastic cups, plastic containers, plastic straws, and packaged items. When we find these items on the street, we can collect them and dispose of them properly. Unsure where an item should be sorted? The City of London is connected with the MyWaste App which has a handy search feature. You can search the item to find out: what bin it goes in, what types of plastic materials are accepted, how to prepare the item for the bin, and what happens next after it gets picked up from the curb. Ultimately, the best way to prevent these items from becoming litter is to stop using them entirely! This can be done by swapping out single-use plastic items for environmentally-friendly alternatives, such as glass or stainless steel items that are reusable and long-lasting.
WEEK 2: 6 plastic cups and lids, 2 coffee cups, 3 plastic water bottles, paper packaging, and plastic packaging
- Did you know that 500 billion disposable cups are consumed every year? This number seems unfathomable, but it's true. These coffee cups are made, used once, and are still out there in the environment. On this plogging trip, we found a greater proportion of disposable coffee cups. What's the problem with that? If you order a take-out coffee 2 times a week for a whole year, that's over 100 coffee cups, just for you! If you are able to invest in a reusable coffee cup, you could prevent these coffee cups from being produced and ending up in the landfill or the environment. Purchasing a reusable item also promotes a circular economy, where items are built to last and are repaired or repurposed to extend their lifetime.
WEEK 3: 1 coffee cup lid, 2 candy wrappers, 2 plastic cups, 2 plastic straws, 4 water bottles, plastic packaging
This was the week we were reminded that plogging is a weather-dependent activity! Due to consistent rain, we postponed plogging this week and made sure to go twice the following week. We realized that setting aside a dedicated time for plogging may work for some, but what works best for us is keeping our eyes open and plogging anytime, anywhere! Plogging is a healthy habit for ourselves and the environment we are so connected to, and that's what sparked the idea to make this our feature environmental challenge in the first place. We're not perfect, but making a consistent effort to clean up the environment is a great way to care for the Earth that we all call home.
WEEK 4: 3 plastic water bottles, plastic packaging, juice box, 2 beverage cups and lids
- This week we wondered how else could we change our behaviours to reduce the waste we produce. Ultimately, we want to extend the lifecycle of these products to prevent them from becoming just a single-use item. One great idea is to upcycle products to give them new life! This means using them for something that they weren't originally designed for. We thought of some fun and creative ideas for upcycling a plastic water bottle, and it turns out these ideas make great crafts for the whole family: Cut the bottle in half to make a seed starter, collect several water bottles, paint them, and make your own bowling pins set, turn it into a bird feeder, bring it to Reimagine Co and add it to Zero Waste Forest City's 2050 Ocean art installation...There are SO many great ideas, a quick Google search has so many more! Many companies upcycle candy wrappers, aluminium cans, and water bottles into backpacks, shoes, jackets, and more. The world of upcycling is endless, and a truly amazing way to repurpose a product to prevent it from becoming trash.
What's Our Impact?
1. At the end of the #PloggingWithLEN Challenge, we are happy to share that we collected and sorted over 40 pieces of litter and prevented them from contaminating the environment! If everyone in London stopped littering, we would have even less litter to clean up! But if every Londoner completed our challenge, we would save 11.5 MILLION pieces of trash in one month alone!
2. We also learned about the lifecycle of litter and ways to change this consumer-driven paradigm.
3. And we are committed to clean up the community and make it safer for wildlife and future generations. We will keep plogging on, and hope that you will too!
What Happens Next?
If you'd like to continue your plogging habits like us, we'd love to hear about it! Keep #PloggingWithLEN, share your photos, and help make London a clean, safe, and green community for all! Stay connected with us as we will continue sharing our plogging experiences on social media.
If you'd like to do more, connect with our LEN members dedicated to reducing & removing trash around London:
- Zero Waste Forest City (ZWFC) is a community group deeply passionate about our planet. Through advocacy, educational opportunities, community partnerships, and accessible resources, we strive to make a low impact lifestyle more approachable to everyone in the Forest City, and beyond. We aim to empower individuals to make informed, earth-conscious choices, and believe that together, we have the collective power to make our community a healthier, more sustainable place to be. Join ZWFC at their community space Reimagine Co on 211 King St. They are always buzzing with workshops, activities, demonstrations, and a zero waste store!
- Thames River Rally (TRR) believes that a healthy river is the lifeblood of a strong community. They strive to find the most direct way to help Londoners get involved with cleaning up the Thames. TRR organizes volunteer-run monthly clean-ups of the Thames River within the city of London. Connect with TRR for details on upcoming river clean-ups and events.