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

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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.”

London trash problem benefits from community effort

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City staffers joined the hundreds of Londoners taking part in last year’s 20-Minute Makeover, just part of London Clean & Green’s long-running 12 Days of Cleaning. — Contributed Photo

Initially, London Clean & Green was a cleanup program, but cleaning doesn’t begin to solve the problem of litter on city streets.

To better address the situation, London Clean & Green and the City of London launched the 12 Days of Cleaning about 10 years ago.

The initiative was designed to provide greater focus on the city’s trash problem and according to Jay Stanford, London Clean & Green committee member and the City of London’s director of environment, fleet and solid waste, the effort has paid off.

“So many of the items we pick up should be in the blue box, should be recycled elsewhere, or clearly should be in the garbage. That’s why we went to this longer period of time,” Stanford said. “I can see it being something that’s even more permanent to really get a kick at the can to correcting this or at least dramatically reducing trash.”

The 12 Days of Cleaning — which began April 10 — offers Londoners the opportunity to be mindful around the disposal of numerous items, including cigarette butts, renovation materials, household cleaning products, unused medicine and aluminum cans and plastic bottles.

Wrapping up the 12 Days of Cleaning is the Earth Day 150 Weekend, featuring events like: the 20-Minute Makeover on Friday, April 20, the signature community cleanup on Saturday, April 21 and tree planting in St. Julien Park on Sunday, April 22.

Although he acknowledges its more anecdotal evidence than definitive proof, Stanford said he has been told by many people over the years, the amount of trash picked up at various neighbourhood cleanups is less each year, meaning each year the focus can be directed to different efforts.

“That tells me the program is working. 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.”

Stanford also feels confident that over the past 10 years in particular, more Londoners are getting involved in the cleanup effort.

More people, for example, have started to get involved with the city’s Adopt-A Programs.

Adopt-A-Park, for example, has taken off with 80 percent of parks being adopted over the last six years.

This has led to the successes of not only Adopt-A-Park, but also Adopt-A-Pond (and there are around 150 ponds in London) and Adopt-A-ESA. An ESA, or environmentally significant area, is made up of significantly large areas, which is why there is opportunity for many groups to get involved.

Stanford said these are the signs of progress, adding that people are stepping up and saying the yearly cleanup isn’t enough. Instead, he explains, they’re taking on the responsibility of going into an area of the city and clean it up two to four times a year.

That said, he is quick to point out there are many other ways for Londoners to get involved in the ongoing clean-up of the Forest City.

For example, here are groups in London that have been around for a long time and just go about their own business.

The Thames River Cleanup, which spans well beyond the city and into the Thames watershed, and the Veterans Memorial Parkway Community Program are entities Stanford said, “are out there and just do good work all the time, from picking up trash to planting trees.”

“Londoners are getting the message. When we compare ourselves to other communities, we realize we need all three pieces working together,” he said. “There’s prevention, the action, and the greening; they’re all part of the same family. Some communities are just about the cleaning, and that’s good too, but we recognize you have to have all the pieces working for you and the uptake continues to grow each year.”

London Clean & Green kicks off 23rd season of spring renewal

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Mayor Matt Brown was one of the speakers taking part in the kickoff of the 23rd London Clean & Green on April 10 at Goodwill Industries. — Dana Wachter Photo

Anthony Scheltema remembers downtown London being a much dirtier place when he lived and worked in the area nearly two decades ago.

As he took part in the kickoff of the 23rd London Clean & Green on April 10, he looked back on his own history with an initiative that was once far less successful.

Scheltema, who was working at Joe Kool’s Restaurant when the London Clean & Green community cleanup first launched, recalls thinking at the time it was a good way to clean up the downtown then head back in for some beer and pizza.

He eventually left the Forest City before returning a few years ago and discovering things had definitely changed.

“I left town 15 years ago, came back with the anticipation this was still a small, family-run event through Joe Kool’s,” he said. “It has grown into something I could never have imagined. It’s exciting now to be a part of it again.”

Scheltema works as a project manager at Winmar Property Restoration Specialists, one of this year’s new corporate sponsors who have come on board to support the London Clean & Green and its extended program, The 12 Days of Cleaning.

The 12 Days of Cleaning leads up to the annual 20-Minute London Makeover and concludes with the annual Community Cleanup Day.

The 20-Minute London Makeover takes place on Friday, April 20, and encourages local businesses, institutions and schools to get involved collecting litter and tidying up outside their places of work.

The annual Community Cleanup Day on Saturday, April 21 involves the entire community with more than 40 community sponsors supporting the event.

Participants can register their cleanup locations and learn more about the day at The website offers a mapping feature allowing residents to place their cleanup locations on the map — although registration is not required to participate — and city officials can then identify spots on the map that require attention.

Scheltema is excited to be back in London and taking part in the cleanup, particularly given he now works for an industrial cleaning company.

“Our job is cleaning, typically under bad circumstances like fire or flood. But that’s what we do,” he said. “Ultimately the way we recycle a lot of the waste we bring through our facilities, those initiatives coincide with what we’re trying to do here, ultimately send as little to the waste disposal sites as possible. Will it take years? Sure, but it is worth doing.”

London Clean & Green has evolved from a single cleanup event in 1996 to a program that extends over 75 days focusing first on cleaning up the Forest City, followed by many greening events in May and June.

Mayor Matt Brown has witnessed the community support for London Clean & Green up close during his tenure on council.

A speaker at this year’s launch, Brown said he is “amazed by the phenomenal growth” the initiative has shown.

“I can remember as a ward councillor in my first year, there were lots of community groups who would come out to clean community parks, but nothing on the scale we see today,” Brown said. “I think people who live in London, love London, and recognize our environmental assets are some of our best assets. It’s our responsibility to take care of them.”

Looking specifically at one of the biggest success stories to come out of Clean & Green, the mayor said he recalls the “epidemic of graffiti” the city was dealing with when he first came on council.

Through the efforts of municipal bylaw officers, the London Police Service, and community organizations like London Clean & Green, Brown said that the situation has changed dramatically for the better.

“Clean & Green had a very modest start . . . and has grown into a community wide event,” Brown said. “This effort sets the tone every year. Littering, illegal dumping, it’s just not OK.”


Community cleanup driving London’s green awareness

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London Clean & Green committee member Ron Scarfone was part of the group’s 1996 launch. More than 20 years later he’s excited by how Londoners have embraced the event and its goals.

When the London Clean & Green launched 22 years ago, the community cleanup’s supporters not only had a hard time attracting interest, but seemingly faced an uphill battle in convincing Londoners of why they should care about a cleaner city.

Times have certainly changed, however, and what was once a one-off Saturday morning event has evolved into 12 days of environmental action, running Tuesday, April 10 to Sunday, April 22. The clean-up culminates with the annual London Clean & Green Community Cleanup on Saturday, April 21 and Earth Day celebrations on Sunday, April 22.

“It’s multiplied 10-times over,” said London Clean & Green committee volunteer Carmela Ianni. “We went from a Saturday morning event to now 12 days plus a corporate initiative, the 20-Minute Makeover, plus Earth Day celebrations on the Sunday. It hasn’t just multiplied with people, but with events and with the listening to the conversation on social media.”

Participation, Ianni said, has been the biggest change since the early days of London Clean & Green.

The first year, she recalls, saw about a dozen people picking up trash and cleaning graffiti in the downtown core. This year’s efforts, by comparison, will see literally thousands of Londoners spread out in activities across the city, particularly during the community cleanup.

Ron Scarfone was right there beside Ianni 22 years ago and like her, he admits he never could have imagined where the organization — not to mention the community awareness — would be today.

After all, Scarfone said it was a struggle in the beginning to even get people to understand what London Clean & Green was all about.

“You can go back to a few employees from Joe Kool’s (where Scarfone is general manager) who went out to clean graffiti off mailboxes. That’s where we started,” he said. “Move forward now to thousands of people taking part and the program running over a number of months. There has been growth every year and it just continues to happen. But there’s no doubt we struggled with things in those early days.”

Once the media began writing stories about the cleanup, stories that inspired Londoners to get involved, Scarfone recalls things “really started to change” in terms of the public’s openness to the cleanup discussion.

But also, the environment itself became a key focal point for many in the community.

“Where you can drop off this product or that product. They once didn’t recycle TVs. Now there are places for all those things,” he said. “The environmental movement started, and we were maybe a little ahead of that in our minds. But as the movement started to happen, we realized there was room for growth in this.”

That growth is reflected not only in the number of Londoners offering to help clean-up every spring, but in the support of the city’s corporate community.

Ianni said there are many companies now involved in the 20-Minute Makeover — which takes place this year Friday, April 20 — but they’re also approaching London Clean & Green, asking what they can do to get involved.

Scarfone acknowledges there will always probably be trash on the ground, whether dropped by people not thinking about their actions or material that gets blown out of garbage cans and recycling boxes.

That said, he’s excited to see how far Londoners have come — and continue to go.

“We all want to see less trash on the ground, less graffiti on the walls. This is 22 years of telling London this is our community and we should be proud of it. I think we’ve succeeded in that message,” Scarfone said. “To nail down that measure of success completely is hard, I’m just happy that people take the time to go out and do something to make a difference.”

Foundation, mental health leaders aim for systems change

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London Community Foundation president and CEO Martha Powell (right) speaks with Niagara Connects’ Mary Wiley, who was invited to speak at the foundation’s third Vital Conversation on March 28.

In 2016, London Community Foundation (LCF) released its Vital Signs report, which identified mental health as the single greatest issue facing the community.

Since that time, LCF president and CEO Martha Powell has seen a lot of meetings, but not a lot of action. That situation has left her feeling “frustrated,” but the success of a regional neighbour also has her excited for London’s future.

“The conversation needs to be continued; we need to take it beyond a conversation, it has to now become a call to action to change the system,” she said. “Since 2016 I’ve seen lots of tables, lots of conversation groups across the community meeting on different topics, but I haven’t seen a lot of action.”

Powell said she believes there is “lots of good intention, lots of great will,” in the Forest City around the issue of mental health, but there isn’t the necessary co-ordination.

Then she heard about Niagara Connects, an effort launched in that region in 2014 to create a Niagara-wide network for collaboration, planning and community action.

With that in mind, on March 28, LCF and London Health Sciences Centre brought together local mental health leaders and stakeholders to discuss how the community can tackle mental health systems change in a “collaborative and systematic way.”

Held at the Wolf Performance Hall in London’s Central Library, the third Vital Conversation offered more than 50 attendees the opportunity to learn, ask questions, and take a critical look at the current system to determine if a mental health charter could be the starting point to streamlining the delivery of care.

Mary Wiley from Niagara Connects was invited to speak about the creation of that region’s mental health charter.

Wiley explained how in 2014 her community launched the Niagara Mental Health and Addictions Charter, the collective expression of 65 organizations working across what she describes as “the mental wellness continuum.”

This connection included people working in mental wellness promotion, mental illness prevention and mental health services and care.

“When we started out there was a rough vision . . . it soon became a mental health and addictions charter. Right now, we are now at the stage where we are implementing it; that is a long-term goal,” Wiley said. “Now there are over 74 organizations that have been at the table in one shape or form. We are now morphing that working into a network format where we are actually sharing data and can measure our progress in implementing the charter.”

Wiley explained the idea of Niagara Connects was to get people looking together across a broad spectrum, but also realizing they’re all horizontal partners and that no matter their individual mandates they needed to come together “in a trusted social space” to do what was best for the Niagara area.

It also took, she explained, the understanding that meaningful change takes time.

“It’s not a five or 10-year plan, there’s an acknowledgement of it being at least a 50-year plan, if not more,” she said. “These things take time. Sometimes the steps forward may not look huge, but they are steps forward.”

At the end of the Vital Conversation, Powell said attendees were invited to sign up to answer five questions that commit individuals and organizations to taking action.

She was quick to add Londoners need to challenge themselves to think about how everyone can get the help that they deserve.

“I hope they take away a call to action,” Powell said. “We don’t want this to be another talk, we want people to say I’m going to commit my organization, or myself, to this change. Whatever it is.”

Ignite Conference to inspire girls into political connection

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Gabrielle Guizzo, a fourth-year political science student at King’s University College, has put together the Ignite Conference to inspire female-identifying girls to get into the political process.

Growing up, Gabrielle Guizzo was the only girl in her Hamilton high school who wanted a career in politics.

Today a fourth-year political science student and King’s Scholar at King’s University College, Guizzo graduated high school with about 500 people. Being the only girl she knew who had an interest in politics, however, told Guizzo something needed to change.

After many years of thinking about what that change might look like, she decided now was right time to put her ideas into action.

“When I started my university career, I wanted to leave having made a difference, a change in some way, and I always saw that through a conference,” she explains. “I know that not every girl is going to want to be involved in politics. But now if they are understanding the gap, understanding what the barriers are, maybe they can start their own solution.”

The results of Guizzo’s inspiration is the upcoming Ignite Conference at King’s University College’s Student Life Center, on Saturday, April 7.

Ignite is targeted towards female-identifying girls between the ages of 14-19, studying at the high school level. The day-long conference is dedicated, Guizzo said, to empowering young women to consider a future in politics.

The Ignite Conference will include a series of three speakers — including the former Chief of Chippewas of the Thames Leslee White-Eye, Elgin-London-Middlesex MP Karen Vecchio, and marketing and communications professional Shobhita Sharma — a series of three workshops and then a networking lunch.

The day will end with a panel discussion to include London West MPP Peggy Sattler, as well as Carol Dyke (Green Party), Kate Graham (Liberal Party) and Amanda Stratton (NDP), all candidates in the upcoming provincial election.

Guizzo said one of the goals of the conference is to create a forum where “diverse opinions and perspectives” are presented to enrich the experience of delegates while encouraging a dialogue offering a critical analysis of women’s role in political life.

“I want to see girls enjoying and being educated and learning. And hopefully taking something away from it,” she said. “If I can see girls gaining knowledge, closing that gap, that’s going to be really impactful for society. And that’s where we’re going to see future leaders created.”

Guizzo credits one today’s leaders — her course mentor and Women & Politics founder Shawna Lewkowitz — with not only helping her get the conference together, but also providing a tangible example of how women can be meaningfully involved in the political process without necessarily running for office themselves.

For her part, Lewkowitz quickly deflects any credit and instead praises Guizzo for the bringing forward an event that fits well with the goals of Women & Politics.

“We know that getting young girls interested in politics, and knowing they have a place in politics from a young age, is really important,” she said. “Important both for them in that moment, but also for their future prospects and endeavours.”

Considering what Guizzo called “the significant disconnect” between youth today and politicians due to the current political climate,” she said each generation has the potential to create change, but for that to happen there needs to be a greater sense of co-operation.

In light of that sentiment, and with so many women eager to lend their time to the conference, Lewkowitz said she believes there is “a real willingness” for that to happen.

“When you’ve walked that walk yourself, you recognize how important it is to be mentored, to hear from experienced leaders, to build relationships,” she said. “I think it speaks to the quality of the event that Gabby’s been able to attract the people she has. It also is reflective of the women leaders in our community and their willingness to support others.”

Links to delegate applications, and further information, can be found on the Ignite Conference London Facebook page and on Twitter through @IgniteConLDN.