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Gorge cleanup nets tonne of trash - and 7,187 cigarette butts

Sep 18 2012

You're either the kind of person who tosses fast-food containers and used doggy-do bags on the shore - the driver who throws an old toilet into Cecelia Ravine or the smoker who tosses butt after butt on the beach - or you're not.

But some of us are clearly mess-makers, because close to 150 volunteers were willing to spend two hours of their weekend picking up a tonne of trash offenders left behind. And had serious fun doing it.

In just one small section of the Gorge Waterway Cleanup, a team of 25 volunteers from the Juan de Fuca Power & Sail Squadron collected 7,187 cigarette butts.

"We barely made a dent - there's probably hundreds of thousands of butts down there," said Charlotte Gorley. Not to worry, the children from Sangster Elementary School are expected to be back out there next weekend, collecting thousands more.

That's the kind of people who live in Greater Victoria - they think it's a treat to spend part of their weekend cleaning up grungy garbage for free. And that includes scuba divers who located heavy items from the bottom of the waterway with ropes, then were assisted by teenagers who wheel-barrowed debris to the trash bin. Victoria Harbour Ferries provided shuttle service throughout the cleanup.

Along with the butts, volunteers at Esquimalt Lagoon in Colwood also collected lots of dirty coffee cups, bottles, cans, 12 shotgun shells, four lighters, a beach blanket, a pair of pantyhose, four condoms, a chunk of a Black & Decker power tool, a baseball, some rope and, luckily, only one diaper.

The butts bother Gorley the most. "Not only are they very toxic, but they're a fire hazard. It upsets me to think birds and marine life are ingesting these things."

Butts did not go to the landfill but to TerraCycle, which turns them into plastic pallets in Toronto.

The garbage filled a one-tonne bin at Ellice Recycle, which had to make an expedient getaway with its bin to prevent people from tossing all kinds of household trash in it as well.

"I know we filled the bin this year with more stuff than last year," said Sandy Ferrin, Burnside Gorge recreation co-ordinator, adding the efforts are making a noticeable difference.

Among the refuse were a dozen or so used hypodermic needles - dealt with via advice from Victoria AIDS Resource - a set of table legs, an office chair, and bicycle and car tires.

"We figured with all the parts we found, we could probably build some sort of car," said Kim Perkins, whose weirdest find was a stash of emergency food rations next to cans of Lucky Lager.

The positive sign? "One thing that we're really happy about is that there seems to be a lot less Styrofoam," Gorley said, adding that might be because Pacific Mobile Depots now accepts the material.

Gorley couldn't understand why there were so many fast-food containers on the shoreline, given that there are plenty of garbage receptacles along the route she worked on. And in some ways, it's "even worse" when people leave bags of doggy-do on the beach because the bags don't decompose.

"Again, there are so many garbage receptacles, you kind of have to shake your head. It takes very little effort to actually put it in the garbage receptacle. It would be great if people did that."

The effort is part of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, which was co-ordinated by Burnside Gorge for the 12th time. Since 2000, thousands of volunteers have removed tonnes of trash from the waterway, enabling it to be reopened in August for the Gorge Swim Fest, which attracted hundreds of swimmers.

kdedyna@timescolonist.com

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