'I just can't stand the sight of garbage': Guelph man takes litter into his own hands

Guelph resident Bill Summers says he became frustrated with unsightly litter while taking neighbourhood walks during the pandemic and decided to do something about it.

“I just can't stand the sight of garbage when I am outside,” he said.

He said it’s not the visual he hopes for while in the great outdoors.

“When you’re seeing garbage, it’s kind of like, it takes away from what you really want to see which is the wildlife and everything else," he said.

So he decided to pick up a new hobby by picking up litter on a consistent basis.

General Manager of Parks for the City of Guelph, Gene Matthews, says the spring melt usually puts a winter’s worth of garbage on display.

“Certainly in the spring we can see some heightened garbage in our parks and natural areas so it is an issue that we deal with," Matthews said.

Matthews says every summer, the City of Guelph typically hires about 25 to 30 employees who are dedicated to cleaning up parks.

“Right now we're just in the midst of having our summer staff in our parks being on-boarded," Matthews said. "Once those team members are on board we’ll start to play catch up with the issue.”

Until then, citizens are welcome to help.

“As a part of our clean and green program, we sent Bill some pickers and some garbage bags to help him out," Matthews said. "He's doing a lot of work for us and we appreciate it.”

The municipality provided Summers with a picker for him to safely collect the litter without having to touch it.

The Clean and Green Program provides citizens with garbage bags and gloves. Those who register to volunteer are also asked to specify which neighbourhood or park they wish to clean, so that the good spirit is spread out.

“If I fill up a bin, because typically I will fill up a bin. I just inform them and they'll just come pick it up the next day or a day or two later,” Summers said.

Matthews stresses that especially during a pandemic, he wants to make sure safety is a priority for all volunteers. Hygienic items such as masks, diapers and even cups need to be handled properly and PPE should be worn. The city also asks that everyone who signs up, stay six feet away from anyone who does not live in their household and that all volunteers obey traffic laws.

“We just want them to be safe,” Matthews stated.

For Summers, who now has experience with through routine, his biggest pet peeve when it comes to litter is dog poop in bags. He says he once picked up about 20 bags one morning at Royal City Park.

“You kind of go, 'you've done the major job of putting the dog poo in the dog bag. Why couldn't you walk 100 feet and put it into the garbage can?'“ he said.

“Picking up after ourselves, that's the best thing that everyone can do,” Matthews said.