From plastic bags to coffee cups and plenty of cigarette butts, litter isn’t an uncommon sight on the streets of Lethbridge.
Students and staff at Lethbridge College are hoping to bring awareness to this issue through virtual story maps — serving as both an end-of-term project and a public education piece.
Dr. Tali Neta, an instructor in the School of Environmental Sciences, got the idea for the project when she came across dumped garbage on multiple occasions while walking her dogs.
“I would go with them for a walk, and I would take these big huge garbage bags and disposable gloves, and then I would think, ‘If it’s clean, people are not going to litter again,’ but I was wrong,” Neta said.
“Every day I would come there and there was more and more garbage, and I was so upset. I was frustrated.”
As an educator, Neta wanted to find a way of bringing more awareness to this issue, and enlisted the City of Lethbridge and the Helen Schuler Nature Centre for help.
“We started talking about some of the data that had been collected over the years with the Coulee Cleanup program and the Shoreline Cleanup program,” said the nature centre’s resource development coordinator Curtis Goodman.
“We agreed that working together in a collaborative fashion to provide that data for students to (use) would be a perfect way to shed a little bit more light on the trends that may be taking place in our river valley, so we can better understand these trends and make better decisions on it.”
Neta’s geomorphology students were then put to work creating story maps to illustrate the effects of litter on the ecosystem using the data provided, which encompassed the Coulee Cleanup statistics from 2015-2019.
“The data shows the number of garbage bags that were collected by the volunteers, and then it shows what types of items were collected,” explained Neta said. “How many cigarette butts there are, how many plastic bags, how many ping pong balls.”
Dayce Rhodes, a new graduate of the Ecosystem Management – Bachelor of Applied Science degree program, said he learned a lot from the assignment, and encourages the public to be mindful of using less single-use items that contribute to litter.
“I was curious to see… how much litter, you knowy, is there, and where is it accumulating — is it certain spots? And… we did end up finding that,” he said.
The interactive maps — which use data and cases studies locally and internationally to show how litter can affect animal populations, waterways, plant growth and more — can be found on the Helen Schuler Nature Centre’s website.
“We encourage people to click around, check out that information,” Goodman said. “It’s pretty impressive what the students have put together.”
Neta plans to continue her research into this area, by working with the creator of an app that helps track litter around the world by collecting user-uploaded photos called OpenLitterMap.