Eleven-year-old Evan Seip was walking along the path behind his Elmira home last weekend with his father, and the pair was appalled at what they found. Amongst the grass, rocks and reeds were pop cans, plastic bags and candy wrappers, lining the sides of the creek. And just beside the tin cans, beer bottles, yard waste, a road sign and several plastic bags filled with dog droppings were three small birds’ nests, looking out of place in their trashy environment.
“The creek is the main source of water for these birds,” explained Seip. One of the nests is home to a family of red-winged blackbirds and the other two have yet to hatch.
“All the garbage that builds up in there is polluting the water, and I am worried that it might start to make the birds sick.”
The duo does a bit of spring cleaning every year in the creek behind their Brookmead Street home, and each year, they fill several garbage bags, said Evan’s father Lorne. “If it doesn’t belong in nature, we pick it up.”
But this year the impact of the trash was especially poignant for Evan, a Grade 5 student at Riverside Public School.
“I spend a lot of time outside with my friends. We go fishing, or canoeing or biking along the trails or in the park,” said Evan. “It’s important that we keep these places clean, not just for us but for the birds and animals too.”
Lorne noted that he and his wife make a consistent effort to keep their property clean, but that it’s disappointing to see how people treat the township property located directly behind their home.
“Even with the spotlight on the environment as it has been lately, people aren’t getting the message that they can’t just drop their cigarette butts on the ground, or leave plastic bags lying around,” said Lorne.
“It’s as though people assume that someone else will take care of it. It’s not their property so it’s not their problem.”
Evan is a part of the Junior Gardeners Club, a group of kids who spend time down at their garden on First Street – pulling out weeds, fertilizing the land and planting their own vegetables.
“At the club we learn that it is really easy to reuse a lot of our waste,” explained Evan. “A lot of things can be composted, and can actually be good for the earth if they’re put in the right places.”
The budding environmentalist is learning about where ‘the right places’ are for his trash, recyclables and compostables, but gets frustrated when others don’t seem to bother with theirs.
“If the garbage keeps building up in the creek, the water is going to get even more polluted and more animals are going to get sick,” said Evan. “And it makes our town look bad – people won’t want to come visit here again.”
“We can’t hold the raccoons and squirrels accountable for the things they leave behind – that’s part of nature, it belongs here,” said Lorne. “We can however be accountable for ourselves, and people need to remember that.”