Have litter, will travel, the wind seems to whisper to columnist Walt Humphries. photo courtesy of Walt Humprhies

Have litter, will travel, the wind seems to whisper to columnist Walt Humphries. photo courtesy of Walt Humprhies

Tales from the dump: How far does litter travel?

I was out on the tundra, within sight of the Arctic Ocean, when something caught my eye. It was a plastic bag sailing along with the wind. I wasn’t close to any community or camp I knew of, so I wondered how far it had come and how far it was going. Very few Northern dumps are protected from the wind. So, litter blows far and wide.

Another time I was boating across a big lake and way out in the middle, pretty much out of sight of shore, I saw an empty but capped liquor bottle float by. That bottle could conceivably float across the lake, down the Mackenzie River across the Arctic ocean and end up anywhere.

As I write this, a rocket sent up by China will soon make an uncontrolled descent into the atmosphere and possibly spread space junk just about anywhere on the planet. What goes up must come down and sooner or later someone will get hit by space junk.

I think it is safe to say, we have reached a worldwide litter problem, which most people and countries are contributing to. So, this begs the question: why do human’s litter? Unfortunately, the answer is why not? Historically it is the normal and natural thing to do.

When a bear digs a hole in the tundra to get at a ground squirrel, it does not fill the hole in afterwards. When a beaver gnaws down a tree to eat the bark or to use it to build a dam, it does not clean up the wood chips. When a troop of monkeys comes across a fruit tree, they just let the rinds, husks and cores fall to the ground. They don’t clean up afterwards.

A tribe of humans would set up camp in one spot and stay there until the litter, poop and garbage became a problem and then they would simply move their camp someplace else. It was only when humans started setting up permanent structures to live in and large settlements that they began to tackle the sewage, garbage, and litter problem. Initially they would just dump it in the nearest lake or river. Until those downstream went to war over it.

It took a long, long time before a few countries started to take these things seriously and we are obviously still grappling with the problems in large parts of the globe. Some countries still use open ditches for waste and rivers or oceans for disposal sites.

Even here in Canada, we obviously have a litter problem and in the spring a dog and human poop problem. Basically, our sewage in Yellowknife is pumped to Fiddler Lake, our garbage is put in the dump at the edge of town. One which is open to the elements and wind. Litter can be found just about everywhere in and around town. And I shudder at what ends up in the lakes.

It is a dirty little secret that most big cities in Canada have the storm drains hooked up to the sewer system so when it rains it overwhelms the sewage treatment plants and raw sewage is dumped in the nearest river or lake. One of the reasons flood water is polluted.

Beach glass has become a thing because all sorts of countries and cities use to just dump their garbage into the nearest lake and ocean and that included glass bottles which get broken, and pieces end up as part of the beach.

So why do people litter? Because we always have, and it is only when people reach the realization that this is not a good thing and that it is unacceptable, will it stop. To me our biggest problem is not fossil fuels but pollution and raising people’s awareness that we should try to keep our home, and the planet is our home, as clean as possible.

To not provide public washrooms is unacceptable, as is letting your dog poop in town and not cleaning up after it. It is not acceptable to have plastic litter covering the land and the bottoms of our lakes. People litter because they always have, and it is going to be tough to break habits which are normal and natural to them. They just don’t see it as a problem, yet!