I've seen people sit down at a picnic bench, eat their take-out lasagna, wash it down with a bottle of juice, wipe their mouth with a napkin, then get up and walk away, leaving it all on the tabletop — the crumpled napkin jammed inside the recyclable take-out container, the empty bottle on its side.
The garbage can is three metres away.
I've seen crumpled pop cans festering on trailsides; dirty six-pack plastic loops dangling from branches; thousands of gross cigarette butts outside of nightclub entrances; busted open bags of garbage midnight-dumped on the road to Alice Lake.
Am I getting old and cranky, or are people just getting so careless with their garbage it stinks? Both! The first thing we can't do anything about. But the second one we can.
Whatever happened to pack it in, pack it out? Whatever happened to "Beautiful British Columbia?" Just because they took the old slogan off our licence plates, we don't have a licence to litter.
Litter, litter everywhere — it makes you want to drink!
That includes garbage left out around Whistler in such totally irresponsible ways it ends up attracting bears, often getting them killed. Look at last week's Pique article on the bear sow and her cubs getting into garbage left out — again — at Function Junction. I love Patrick Smyth's comment at the end: "What kind of dumbass leaves their garbage out?" What kind, indeed.
And what kinds of dumbasses are leaving their garbage all over the trails and forests? One day this spring staff picked up five big bags of trash left at the Nintendo Terrain Park. The guy in charge of Whistler Blackcomb's parks Instagram account got so mad he created an anti-litter campaign that went "bacterial," as he says.
"We were getting a little fed up with the amount of litter and trash in silly places in the park," said Brian Finestone in an earlier Pique article. "One of my guys took a photo of five bags of trash and posted it (on March 22), and as the day went on it irked me more and more that people just didn't have the respect for the park and mountains in general to carry out their own stuff."
Brian decided to keep posting photos of horned unicorn cats — caticorns — in protest until people started picking up after themselves.
If you're of a certain vintage, you'll remember more all-Canadian anti-litter campaigns. "Don't be a litterbug! Don't be a litterbug! Let's make Edmonton Canada's cleanest city!" went the singsong jingle in my hometown (If you grew up there, you can probably still hear the catchy melody in your head, too!).
In B.C., starting in the late 1950s, you had the massively popular Garbage Gobblers. "Keep B.C. clean and green" was the slogan, encouraging people to do the right thing and put their garbage where it wouldn't matter.
The cute yellow and green monsters have a garbage barrel hidden inside. You dropped your garbage into the gobbler's black and white striped mouth. Picking up litter and putting it in its place was made fun — and picturesque. Just about every kid who grew up in the province, and many a tourist kid, had their photo taken beside, or better, inside a Garbage Gobbler.
The gobblers have been such a part of B.C. conscientiousness and consciousness, they have their own page on the Ministry of Transportation's website. British Columbia Magazine has featured an article on the gobblers, plus they have a Facebook page. They're so iconic, I'm surprised Douglas Copeland hasn't used them in his artwork.
All these campaigns must have made an impression, because for decades Canada has been known for being "so clean." When Oprah visited Vancouver last year, she marvelled at how the streets were so litter free. Good thing she didn't make it up to Whistler.
Maybe the resort needs its own, very public anti-litter campaign. After all, and I say this in the nicest possible way as someone who's been to about 50 countries, people come here from different cultures with different values about leaving garbage, well, anywhere. I remember having a "picnic" in northern Thailand where there were so many pink plastic bags blowing around the park and sticking in the trees it made you crazy.
We could do a lot worse than Brian's caticorns. Turn garbage barrels into caticorns, give them an awesome mouth and let them charm people into doing the right thing. Caticorn Catchers. Maybe we could also start gently telling the next person we see tossing their garbage "away" into nature that there are better ways.
Besides, the very idea of throwing something "away" is, well, an illusion. Where exactly is this "away?" Under the nearest spruce tree? In the River of Golden Dreams? Even if it's picked up and buried in the landfill — Whistler shipped about 13,000 tonnes there last year alone — garbage doesn't go "away." It takes eons for some of it to breakdown.
Next time you're out and about, if you need some prompters to remind yourself — or your pals — why it's good to keep garbage in its rightful place, here you go:
Never mind how disgusting it looks, litter in natural settings can be as dangerous to wildlife as storing it improperly outside your back door. Tasty-smelling wrappers, candy, French fries, even apple cores tossed out a car window can lure animals into the line of fire from traffic. If it's garbage that hits a ditch, rodents can get into it, attracting birds of prey into traffic crossfire.
Apple cores and other seemingly innocuous or organic waste on trails are a lure, habituating wild animals to humans, usually with disastrous results for the animals.
Beer and soda pop left in the bottoms of cans thrown "away" are powerful attractants. According to the Humane Society of the United States, one of the saddest cases of garbage gone bad occurred in Florida, where a raccoon ended up with two beer cans jammed onto each of its front paws. The poor skinny creature had managed to learn to walk with them on and survive for ages, but they'd taken their toll — all the skin and fur on its front paws was entirely gone.
Here's to ending such dumbass stuff — for good.
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who tries to pick up the garbage that makes her cranky.
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