Average household waste in HRM up 10 per cent during pandemic

Click to play video: 'Halifax man has taken to garbage picking while on his daily walks' Halifax man has taken to garbage picking while on his daily walks
Litter isn’t just an eyesore it’s a serious problem for the environment. That’s why one Halifax man has taken to garbage picking while on his daily walks. As Jesse Thomas has more. – Jun 18, 2021

With a move to online shopping and ordering take-out meals to support local restaurants becoming the new normal, it may not come as a surprise that household waste across the Halifax Regional Municipality has shot up by 10 per cent during the pandemic.

“We’re seeing about a 10 per cent increase in garbage, recycling and compost coming from residential homes,” said Kirk Symonds, education and program delivery leader with HRM’s Solid Waste Resources.

Prior to the pandemic, Symonds said Nova Scotia was making great advancements in reducing the single-use plastics, and officially banning single-use plastic bags at retail stores in October, to keep plastic out of the environment and at landfills, only to see the return during the pandemic.

“We were making huge strides in reducing single-use plastic items, like huge portions of straws and take-out cups,” said Symonds. “But that all got put on hold because of safety regulations during the pandemic.”

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Read more: Halifax council aims to crack down on illegal dumping with beefed-up bylaw

With more trash comes litter, it seems the two go hand-in-hand together, said Brian Cooper, he’s noticed more litter along the streets during the pandemic and it spurred him to do something about it.

“I wasn’t going to pick things up with my hands so I went out and bought a picker-upper,” said Cooper.

That was more than 15 months ago and Cooper has been picking up litter in Halifax’s Southend, ever since, only taking 10 days off from his cleanup hikes.

“I noticed a lot more litter around the city,” he said. “And I’m not one just to go out for walks, so I thought I would pick up trash along the way.”

Cooper will walk nearly three hours a day and cover nearly seven kilometres of downtown streets, he’s picked up all kinds of debris.

“You name it and I’ve picked it up, every clothing item possible,” said Cooper. “Sometimes items you don’t want to pick up.”

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Cooper says with the pandemic there’s a lot of personal protective equipment, like gloves and facemasks, he’s keeping a running tally on how many facemasks he finds on the ground.

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“My highest is 62 masks in one day,” said Cooper. “I’ll pick up anywhere from 20 to 30 masks a day.”

The litter isn’t just an eyesore, it’s bad for the environment, said Alanna McPhee, director of programs and development with Divert NS, a not-for-profit that has been championing recycling initiatives across Nova Scotia for the past 20 years.

This week Divert NS launched a province-wide litter audit, taking stock of debris left along roadways across the province.

“The roadside litter audit is something that hasn’t been done in Nova Scotia since 2008,” said McPhee. “We’re in the midst of running that process, which is going out and getting in the ditches and finding out what’s actually in the ditches, how much of it and if the brand is visible also categorizing the brand.”

‘A really big problem’

There are three parts to the litter study which include a behavioural research focus said McPhee, digging into what drives people to litter in the first place, with the study finding being released in the fall with an awareness campaign to follow.

“We’re trying to understand this behaviour a bit better,” said McPhee. “Because the one thing in Nova Scotia is we have a strong culture of recycling but for whatever reason, litter is a really big problem here.”

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Cooper said he’ll continue to pick up litter on his daily walks, it’s led to a lot of trash talk on the street level and people sharing their appreciation for his cleanup efforts.

“I’ve had people stop their cars to thank me, honk their horns,” said Cooper. “That’s been the best part.”

The most common question Cooper gets asked, is he getting paid?

“No, I’m just a volunteer,” said Cooper.

Symonds says the municipality has seen an increase in complaint calls for litter and garbage during the pandemic and they’ve revived an ad campaign and slogan titled, “Let’s be clear. Litter doesn’t belong here.”

Read more: ‘A lot of it I think is laziness’: residents highlight litter issues around HRM

The video and photographer ad series was introduced prior to the pandemic, but ads were brought back again and posted heavily on a range of social media platforms.

“We decided to promote it heavily based on the pandemic,” said Symonds. “We heard that litter was a problem again, we saw the problem and we started running that program again.”

Public health restrictions at points didn’t allow for community litter pickup programs like “The Great Nova Scotia Pick-Me-Up” and the “Nova Scotia Adopt-A-Highway” programs couldn’t operate based on public health gathering limits.

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“There were certain points we simply couldn’t clean up litter,” said Symonds. “We couldn’t have groups out there and we couldn’t promote it and I think that’s why a lot of people see litter as being a bigger problem.”

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