When the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered schools, restaurants, and businesses, it changed the way environmental groups do their work too.
A Greener Future, awarded a $1,500 environmental grant by the Niagara Community Foundation, quickly realized that instead of using the grant as intended – to invite more people to Niagara’s “Love Your Lake” beach clean-ups – it had to tell them to stay away. So, instead of rallying Niagara citizens, the GTA-based agency, which has helped coordinate annual litter clean-ups at 13 Niagara locations since 2014, decided to conduct the 2020 beach clean-ups with lone volunteers. It still was able to make data collection a key element of the 2020 event, and reported 1,194 foam pieces, 1,915 pieces of plastic, and 692 cigarette butts collected from Niagara’s beaches. Strange items found included a fortune from a fortune cookie, a set of vampire teeth, and a New Testament Bible.
And instead of relying on volunteers to amplify the group’s message of environmental stewardship, A Greener Future’s executive director Rochelle Byrne paddled a stand-up-paddleboard from Kingston to Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Park Royal. The 430-km coastline journey called attention to plastic pollution and allowed Byrne and other staff and volunteers to pick up floating litter, continuing the organization’s mission of creating awareness of the harm caused to the environment by discarded plastic.
“If you care about Lake Ontario, picking up litter is not enough,” said volunteer Paul Whitaker. The data Love Your Lake collects helps hold producers accountable and encourages people to think about what they buy and throw away. “Clean-ups alone are not the solution. It is better to prevent litter from entering Lake Ontario than clean it up after the fact.”
For 2021, Love Your Lake intends to resume beach clean-ups with volunteers – but with personal protective equipment and safety protocols in place.