London Clean & Green wraps up, but the mission continues

Clean & Green committee
The London Clean & Green organizing committee (from left: Rick Vandersluis, Erin Helm, Ron Scarfone, Carmela Ianni, Colleen Watson, Jay Stanford, Shannon Byron and Aashima Verma) have wrapped up another 12 Days of Cleaning, but remain committed to spreading their message of environmental awareness and action.

The London Clean & Green kicked off its 23rd year back on April 10 with comments from several people, including yours truly.

I was flattered to be asked to speak at the launch and bring my perspective to an event I have been covering for most of the 16 years I’ve been in the Forest City.

The London Clean & Green has grown far beyond what even the organizers originally imagined. What was once a Saturday morning event has expanded to include the 12 Days of Cleaning and signature events such as the 20-Minute Makeover corporate challenge and the annual tree plantings in St. Julien Park on Earth Day.

In my comments that day I spoke about being among the first reporters in the city to really get behind London Clean & Green, not only covering launch events and photo ops, but telling stories about those who were willing to stand up and do their part for a truly cleaner and hopefully greener city.

“People respond to stories; people respond to stories of their fellow Londoners getting involved, caring and taking action on that caring not just standing around saying let’s do something,” I said that day, adding that Londoners care enough to get out every spring for more than two decades and clean up their city.

With that in mind I was given the opportunity this year to continue telling those stories while sharing them on my Newswriter22 blog.

There were plenty of stories to tell.

Jay Stanford, London Clean & Green committee member and the City of London’s director of environment, fleet and solid waste, addressed the litter problem from the view of the municipality.

“We’re getting the people out there picking stuff up,” he said. “We’re hearing about it, seeing it in photographs, but we also know it keeps coming back. That’s why we have to adjust and do more.”

That effort was reflected through many conversations I had the pleasure of sharing over the past couple weeks.

Nadine Reeves, communications and marketing co-ordinator at Childreach, spoke about how her organization’s ongoing participation in the 20-Minute Makeover helped not only clean up their property, but connect with their neighbours while inspiring the children they care for to be environmentally minded.

Nicole St. John, herself a former London Clean & Green committee member and a long-time community cleanup participant, expressed why she continues to be involved in the project.

Not only is she out there picking up garbage during the Community Cleanup Day, but she is also out there throughout the year, doing her part to pick up litter.

“I’d like to hope that’s not who we are; I have hope that attitude can change,” she said. “If you have enough people . . . taking measures to clean up and not throw their litter down on the ground, I do think things can change.”

That effort continued this year and all it takes is a quick jump on social media to see the progress.

The London Clean & Green brought in Fanshawe College students Colleen Watson and Aashima Verma to push the organization’s message out across the internet. If you want proof Londoners embraced that call, visit Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and search for the hashtags #519CleanGreen and #20MinuteMakeover and you’ll see all the proof you need.

As the cleanup portion of London’s environmental efforts comes to a close, concentration has shifted to the greening.

May is the time for events such as tree plantings, compost sales, plant exchanges, nature walks and more.

For more details of how you can continue to create a cleaner and greener city, visit the London Environmental Network at


Londoners embrace a cleaner, greener Forest City

Community cleanup
More than 75 people turned out for the London Hydro community cleanup effort, joining thousands of Londoners who took part in the London Clean & Green Community Cleanup Day on April 21.

Mother Nature decided to cut Londoners a break as the seemingly endless winter broke in time for the London Clean & Green’s annual Community Cleanup Day.

The cleanup, the 23rd edition of which took place April 21, saw Londoners fan out across the Forest City, cleaning up neighbourhoods, local parks and waterways. They also got into the spirit of the day, sharing photos from dozens of community cleanup locations using the #519CleanGreen.

One such cleanup saw more than 75 employees and family members from London Hydro get involved for the fifth year.

The participants broke up into groups to clean up around the utility property, as well as in Thames and Carfrae parks and along the Thames River up to the Horton Street bridge.

After five years of community cleanup efforts, London Hydro environmental supervisor Tom Arnos said he’s thrilled by how the staff has come together to make a difference in the London Clean & Green’s efforts.

That said, he’s still concerned about just how much garbage ends up on the ground every spring.

“It seems like we start at the same point each year, unfortunately. But the best thing to understand is that as a society we’re understanding what we’re doing isn’t right,” he said. “We don’t have to do much, we just put up a poster to let them know what we’re doing and the staff responds.”

London Hydro director of operations Allan Van Damme was quick to add corporations need to be as mindful as their employees.

After all, he adds, employees are always looking for ways the company can be more sustainable.

“I think we’re all getting more aware of the environmental impacts and what impact we have on our environment. People are looking for ways to give back to our environment and this is a way to give back,” Van Damme said. “Hopefully everybody is becoming more aware about the impact of that and that fewer people still throw out things like that. I do think, as a society, people are becoming more aware.”

Katrina Reinhart, a London Hydro corporate communications assistant, said the cleanup day is “a great thing” for not only the wider community, but her fellow employees too.

After all, it’s a positive event that can also be used to bring together staff and their families in support of an important cause.

“I think this turnout shows we care. They care about where they work, they care about London, and a lot of our jobs reflect that as well,” she said. “This area is our whole backyard. We cleanup Carfrae park, Thames Park, along the river. We do make sure children aren’t close to the river. The cleanup is always safety-first.”

If the London Hydro cleanup is closer to a party than a volunteer effort, then it makes sense prizes are awarded as well.

Cleanup participants are given prizes for the most trash collected, the “dirtiest” participant, but also for the strangest items collected.

Arnos said their efforts have often seen everything from bicycles to Hoover vacuums collected.

For Reinhart, the all-time prize for strangest piece of garbage probably goes to an item picked up during London Hydro’s first cleanup, five year ago.

“Usually we get old broken dolls, sometimes lost cat posters, we get a lot of weird things,” she said. “My favourite has to be when someone brought back a ski. They actually brought it back into the building just to prove they found it.”

Clean streets, changing attitudes, goals of Clean & Green volunteers

Cleanup volunteers crop pic
Long-time Community Cleanup Day participant and former London Clean & Green committee member Nicole St. John will once again be joining thousands of Londoners picking up trash across the city on Saturday, April 21.

Nicole St. John has taken part in London Clean & Green for nearly a decade now, not only because she wants to pick up litter in her Riverforks neighbourhood, but because she wants to help set an example.

St. John, a former London Clean & Green committee member, is looking forward to taking part in her ninth community cleanup day on Saturday, April 21.

She’s also hoping the organization’s overall message will become further entrenched because of her frustration around some people’s idea that it’s OK to litter because someone else will be along to pick up after them.

“I’d like to hope that’s not who we are; I have hope that attitude can change. If you have enough people . . . taking measures to clean up and not throw their litter down on the ground, I do think things can change,” she said. “We need more role models and examples. Truth be told, I’ve been that person who if you’re walking ahead of me and drop that candy wrapper, I will say, ‘Excuse me, you dropped something.’ That’s not backfired on me yet.”

This year marks the 23rd London Clean & Green Community Cleanup Day, which is designed to get Londoners out into their neighbourhoods between 9 a.m. and noon, picking up litter, removing graffiti and planting trees.

Pastor Graham Buchanan from West London Alliance Church is another longtime community cleanup day participant.

The church congregation has been taking part in the cleanup for the past six years because the Beaverbrook and Wonderland area where they are what he calls a high-traffic area when it comes to litter.

The first few years, Buchanan recalls — somewhat jokingly — participants were “pulling chunks of cars out of the bushes,” trash that seemingly hadn’t been touched in decades.

That said, litter in its many forms remains a problem Buchanan said the community has to take a stand against.

And that goes not just for people’s individual properties.

“It isn’t just our own property, and we have eight acres, so you can imagine how much garbage we can get around our trees and such, but also the buildings around us, the businesses,” he said. “We want to be better neighbours so if we can initiate that kind of cleanup with them, to us it makes a lot of sense.”

It also makes sense, Buchanan adds, for him to get young people involved in the cleanup.

For example, he’s bringing his 10-year-old son out to the community cleanup because he sees it as important to model good behavior to today’s younger generation — an age group he believes is eager to get involved in creating change.

“People are always looking for a practical way to get involved and you can’t get much more practical than this,” he said. “The younger people are looking to be invited into the solution. You see all the activism groups they have out there, young people want to be involved, they just don’t know how to do that. The more we can be intentional about it, the better.”

For St. John, the environment is “extremely important on so many levels,” and London Clean & Green is an easy way to spend a couple hours, connect with neighbours, and take pride in cleaning up the community.

It’s also a good way, she adds, to deal with that “lazy trash attitude,” that someone else will fix the problem.

“I’m always shocked at the amount of litter we do clean up. We see it on the sidewalks every day, but when you actually put it in a big pile it’s a little shocking,” she said. “Every year after the cleanup, because I am an avid walker, I will walk up my street and take pride in knowing we did this as a community and I was part of it.”

Putting in 20 minutes of action for a cleaner London

20-Minute Childreach
The staff at Childreach will once again be cleaning up around their property during this year’s 20-Minute Makeover. The corporate cleanup challenge is set for Friday, April 20 at locations across London.

For the past decade, staff at Childreach have joined together each spring to take part in the annual 20-minue effort to cleaning up the space around their Maitland Street offices, but also to engage with their neighbours as well.

On Friday, April 20, some two-dozen Childreach staffers will join employees from literally hundreds of businesses across the city to take part in the London Clean & Green‘s annual 20-Minute Makeover.

Geared to London’s business community, the makeover encourages participants to grab some garbage bags and get out in neighbourhoods around London for a 20-minute collection of all that garbage unveiled by the spring’s melting snow.

“We love our neighbourhood and we’re also close to downtown, lots of stores and warehouses and stuff, so it gets pretty dirty. There’s a lot of litter,” said Nadine Reeves, communications and marketing co-ordinator at Childreach. “Some of the stuff we pick up can be dangerous for the families that are coming to visit us . . . drug paraphernalia and such. So, it’s good for safety, it’s good for the environment, it beautifies our neighbourhood.”

In addition to collecting bags of trash, participants in the makeover are encouraged to post a photo on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter using the hashtags #20MinuteMakeover and #519CleanGreen for a chance to win a pizza lunch provided by Joe Kool’s Restaurant.

Reeves said there are many reasons her office takes part in the makeover.

For one, Childreach staff are often working out in the community, at different programs, and are often isolating themselves from many of their colleagues.

Taking part in the 20-Minute Makeover, Reeves said, is also good for raising the centre’s community visibility and spotlighting the programming that encourages active participation in the neighbourhood while taking care of the environment.

Childreach is an early-years, parenting resource centre that’s been in operation for 40 years.

Environmental awareness hasn’t always been Childreach’s message, but Reeves said it does hit home today.

Reeves said another reason Childreach takes part in the makeover is that it allows staff to get into the community, where they will not only take part in the cleanup effort, engage with their neighbours as well.

Peter Carr understands that connection as approximately 18 staffers at Preferred Insurance Group have been getting behind the makeover for a number of years as well.

Carr, vice-president of sales and marketing, said the company initially got involved in the makeover because it was a great way to get staff involved in the community, help with the tidying up, and to be good neighbour as well.

“It doesn’t take long when everybody gets out. Many hands make light work is how the saying goes,” he said. “If everybody did that, it would be pretty nice around town. I know a lot of businesses, a lot of community pick-ups, but if you go somewhere and see garbage lying around, it doesn’t look nice.”

The litter picked up around Preferred’s Wharncliffe Road South office remains “pretty much constant” year after year.

A lot of the trash blows into the area, gathers around trees and shrubs, but the hope is people see the company’s out there doing the makeover and that it inspires them to do the same.

“We do it because it’s the right thing to do, gets everyone involved, but if we’re setting a good example I see that as a good thing,” Carr said. “I worried (in the beginning) it might not go over so well, going out to pick up trash. But when it’s all done, things look better, we feel better. We go a little beyond our property to do our part, but it’s kind of like a haircut, you feel better when it’s done.”

Whether plastic bags or couches, trash comes in all sizes

Most Littered pic
Part of London Clean & Green’s message involves educating Londoners on the most common forms of litter found on city streets. Sometimes those pieces of trash are larger than cigarette butts and coffee cups.

Plastic bags, cigarette butts and paper cups are just some of the most common types of garbage to be found on London streets, but they aren’t the items that Rick Vandersluis still gets surprised by.

Vandersluis, vice-president of business development at Try Recycling Inc. and a member of the London Clean & Green organizing committee, recently had this reality brought into focus while driving on a sideroad not far from his office.

“There was a site I passed and there were a couple of couches I saw sitting at the side of the road,” he said. “It’s probably the couches and mattresses, the big bulky items, that still surprise me. Those are the most obvious to me.

Couch trash
Despite more than 20 years of messaging, people continue to improperly dispose of items, including furniture. — Rick Vandersluis Photo

With the London Clean & Green’s annual community cleanup day approaching on Saturday, April 21, attention is once again being focused on the types of litter most commonly picked up from streets and along hedges and fences all over the Forest City.

According to London Clean & Green, the Top 10 items of litter include: plastic bags, cigarette butts and packaging, renovation materials, paper cups, snack and candy wrappers, beverage cans and bottles, drinking straws, expanded foam plastic, chewing gum and paper packaging and flyers.

While those are the most common types of litter, Vandersluis said he remains most perplexed when someone decides to dispose of those larger items (furniture and appliances for example) into a nearby ditch.

“They really are halfway there to dealing with it responsibly by taking the time to put it in their vehicle. People know the proper ways,” he said. “There are recycling areas, bulk item drop-offs. There are places for that stuff to go. I would say its laziness and people trying to get away with not paying a drop-off fee.”

The idea of avoiding the fees associated with proper disposal of these larger scale items (or perhaps those more common bags of renovation materials) is one Vandersluis said is hard to understand.

After all, individuals caught illegally dumping trash can face a fine in the vicinity of $500 while tipping fees at official sites run around $50. “People think there is no consequence, but there really is.”

Fortunately, Vandersluis said, he’s seeing less of those kinds of items being dumped illegally.

When it comes to those more common pieces of litter, items like the paper cups and candy wrappers, proper disposal, Vandersluis said, becomes a mindset.

People are less inclined, he added, to throw items out the window as they’re driving down the road. They set them in their vehicle and when they get to where they’re going, people are more often disposing of those items properly.

Drinking straws is another popular trash item, but Vandersluis said they are becoming less popular outside of restaurants.

Plastic grocery bags are another item slowly being faded out of regular use as cloth bags become more the norm. And for those who do use plastic bags, people are now more educated that these items can be recycled instead of thrown into the landfill.

“We’re out there to educate. We aren’t there to beat the drum to say thou shall do this. No, we’re out there spreading the word that these are the opportunities you can partake of to help make your city a better place,” Vandersluis said. “It just takes time. We’re 23 years into doing this now and the fact of the matter is we’re making strides.”


Litter creates more harm than just dirty streets

Community cleanup efforts remain important, particularly given the environmental, economic and even public health threat that comes from littering.

For more than 20 years, London Clean & Green has tried to impress upon Londoners the harmful impact littering has on the community.

Unfortunately, supporters admit, all too often people fail to consider the impact of littering.

There are environmental and economic impacts to littering, not to mention threats to public health and community safety, never mind the visual impact it can have to the common view of a city.

These are just some of the harmful impacts of litter and is why the London Clean & Green — and its currently underway 12 Days of Cleaning — is focused on convincing Londoners to think before they toss away their trash.

At the London Clean & Green kickoff event April 11, Mayor Matt Brown put the consequences of littering into context.

The unfortunate part of spring, the mayor said, was that it unveils the dirtier side of the Forest City.

“There is piles and piles of illegally dumped trash that needs to be removed and graffiti that needs to be covered up,” Brown said. “I want to remind people that litter and trash are unfortunately a common sight in London this time of year. I think we can agree it’s disgusting, it’s discouraging, it’s disappointing.”

It’s also a waste of resources, Brown said, because even though the materials recovered during the annual community cleanup — set this year for Saturday, April 21 — can be recycled, they are often less valuable because it’s been on the ground for months instead of being properly disposed of in a timely manner.

Jay Stanford, London Clean & Green committee member and the City of London’s director of environment, fleet and solid waste, said looking back to the initiative’s launch in 1996, he still struggles with the central idea of why litter is created in the first place.

His answer is broken down into four categories.

First is Accidental Litter, which is something everyone contributes to, albeit unintentionally. This includes materials blown out of blue boxes and trash cans.

Then there is What Is Litter? Whether or not someone doesn’t consider a banana peel, an apple core, or peanut shells to be litter, they are. The impact of them being tossed to the ground is it attracts other litter and therefore shouldn’t be there.

Lazy Litter, Stanford said, is casually dropped aside by people who justify their actions by telling themselves someone else will pick it up.

Then there is Stanford’s worst case scenario, the Who Cares Litter, which he suggests is created by people who have no community pride and don’t care about their neighbourhood.

Stanford explains there is a “long list of ideas and reasons why litter is bad,” but two issues in particular put the problem into focus.

For one, litter is a nuisance and not what most people want to see London in.

Then there are hazards that come with litter, especially one example in particular, cigarette butts.

The cigarette filter is there to pull out harmful chemical contaminants such as arsenic, cadmium and lead. If that cigarette butt ends up on the ground and gets into the city’s storm sewers, area creeks or the Thames River, the cigarette butt will leach those chemicals into London’s water eco-system.

These consequences of littering is why Brown is calling on Londoners to once again heed the call to take part in the community cleanup.

“After 22 years of practice, I think we can do the best Clean & Green this city has ever seen,” Brown said. “Litter is unsightly, it doesn’t just disappear. It takes all kinds of work from all kinds of volunteers to address it.”

Fanshawe students bring social media focus to Clean & Green

Social media pic
Colleen Watson (left) and Aashima Verma, students in the Fanshawe College Public Relations & Corporate Communications program, are overseeing the London Clean & Green’s social media campaign.

For more than 22 years the London Clean & Green has been encouraging Londoners to get out each spring to help clean up neighbourhoods, plant trees and create a more positive perception of the Forest City.

To the organization’s credit, that mission has been in many ways successful.

After all, what was once a one-off Saturday morning event has evolved into 12 days of environmental action that will culminate with the annual London Clean & Green Community Cleanup on Saturday, April 21 and Earth Day celebrations in St. Julien Park on Sunday, April 22.

But in the social media age, it seems the organization might be falling short in its goal of reaching a more internet savvy audience.

With that in mind, the London Clean & Green committee has brought in Fanshawe College Public Relations & Corporate Communications students Colleen Watson and Aashima Verma to take over operation of the group’s social media accounts.

Perhaps ironically, the two women’s own perceptions of London Clean & Green speak to why a strong social media presence is essential in today’s world.

“I hadn’t heard of them, but I’d heard about so many other affiliations, Reforest London, London Environmental Network. I knew about them; I had previously had some small involvement with TD Friends of the Environment. But even there, I didn’t know about the Clean & Green,” said Watson, 29. “That, in turn, suggests its need for social media presence. I’ve lived in London for 13 years and didn’t know it was part of the community, although I’m thrilled now to be a part of it.”

Verma, 23, hadn’t heard of the London Clean & Green either and was only made aware of the volunteer opportunity through Public Relations & Corporate Communications program co-ordinator Jackie Westelaken.

When the idea was pitched, and given she’s never really done work in the non-profit sector, she thought it was just what she was looking for.

She also saw it as an opportunity to educate the London Clean & Green committee members about what is possible with social media.

“It’s honestly not their fault. Being the youngest person in the room, I honestly knew where they were coming from,” Verma said. “Anyone of their ages would react the way they were reacting. I love their experience, but they need social media. It’s not an option. They need social media to amplify their message.”

Watson admits to being surprised, “to an extent,” how the organization’s social media was more handled by third-party outsiders in the past and wasn’t necessarily being made a core responsibility for organizers.

In fact, she recalls the organizing committee members expressing “a disconnect” between what they understand social media’s intent is versus what it can actually do.

“They need something consistent. That’s the biggest thing to come out of this. There would be posts for a block of a few months, and then nothing for six months,” she said. “When you want to facilitate that audience engagement, it has to be consistent, it can’t just be done in pieces.”

Watson describes the use of social media in today’s world as, “imperative,” if the goal is to keep the Clean & Green momentum building.

Verma said she believes the London Clean & Green has a big advantage in that there is so much content that can be brought to the forefront, whether it be the stories of people’s environmental experience or photos of community cleanup efforts.

It’s a point Watson said she agrees with, but she’s quick to add can’t be done haphazardly.

“When it comes to social media, it has the ability to influence people’s attitudes in a wide scale. That’s what I think they’re aiming to do,” she said. “I think that’s what we’re trying to do with this social media campaign. It’s that back and forth interaction; you just can’t be pushing information at people.”