'This river is a dumping site and it has to stop': London, Ont. volunteers clean up Thames River

Tom Cull and teenage volunteer Jordan drag a rusty shopping cart from the bank of the Thames River.

"It's not a cleanup until we get a shopping cart," says Cull, the founder of Antler River Rally.

Cull began cleaning the edge of the river near Richmond Street in London, Ont. ten years ago with just one volunteer. A decade later before the pandemic they typically get 30-40 people joining in their monthly cleanups.

Saturday, with restrictions in place they chose to divide and conquer. Five people on each side of the river in a 'min-cleanup.'

"We've lost so many of these due to COVID, so we're playing catch up here a bit," says Cull.

Angie Quick was one of the volunteers helping remove clothing, plastics and other debris.

"I care a lot about the environment and I care a lot about the city," says Quick.

"I think it's a part of this city that people often shove off to the side and just think someone else will do it. But this way, I get to see the city at its core. There are encampments and then there's needle cleanup and that makes you really aware of the social issues within the city."

Angie Quick, a volunteer with Antler River Rally picks up garbage Saturday, June 6, 2021. (Brent Lale/CTV London)

Along the riverbanks of Carfrae Park near the damn, they pulled bags full of garbage, and typically pick up between 50-200 needles each session.

"We're in the midst of a national housing crisis, opioid crisis, and mental health crisis," says Cull.

"We see the effects of that down at the river where people are folks are camping rough. We've been doing this for a long time and we don't go into active camps, as we respect people's places their living spaces. We go about our work while same time trying to kind of educate Londoners about intersecting social and environmental issues because they coalesce here at the river."

With proper Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), Cull and his team carry sharps containers. They even worked with the city and London Cares to get a sharps container placed along the bridge on Richmond Street.

"A lot has changed since we started doing this 10 years ago around people's literacy around, harm reduction, and, and why we're picking up needles," says Cull.

'It's a good thing because it means that people aren't sharing needles, and, and we just now need to make sure that the, that they're not going into the river and downstream."

Those that want to help can follow Antler River Rally or Cull's Facebook page.

"We want to focus on not stigmatizing homelessness as a producer of garbage but thinking about our own consumption and getting down here and getting the tons and tons of plastics out of the river," says Cull.

"We pick up tons of plastic and I'm being literal. We are using this river, as a dumping site and it's got to stop and really that's why we're here."