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Jun. 17, 2021 | Thursday
Local News
Annual Lake Ontario cleanup coming back to NOTL shores
Tim Balasiuk, founder of Paddle Niagara, holds some trash he found on Lake Ontario's shore. (Dariya Baiguzhiyeva/Niagara Now)

Plastic, straws, cigarette butts ­­– even toilet seats – are just some of the trash that can be found along the shores of Lake Ontario.

However, the NOTL shoreline will be a bit cleaner after Sunday, May 5, when the fourth annual beach cleanup kicks off at 10 a.m. at Queen’s Royal Park.

Love Your Lake is one of the programs organized by a non-profit organization, A Greener Future. The event starts in NOTL and ends in Kingston, making 100 stops to pick up litter along the way.

Last year, 3,456 pieces of litter were collected in NOTL with 42 volunteers and five staff members helping clean up the park’s waterfront. Volunteers and staff picked up 656 cigarette butts, 132 food wrappers, 288 plastic bottle caps, 193 straws, 757 plastic pieces, 398 pieces of styrofoam and five syringes – all at Queen’s Royal Park.

Paddle Niagara was the cleanup’s sponsor last year, said Rochelle Byrne, founder of A Greener Future, and, thanks to paddleboarders, a lot of litter was also fished out of the lake.

Tim “Bala” Balasiuk, the owner of Paddle Niagara, said he has been cleaning up the NOTL beaches for seven years. The decision to team up with A Greener Future came to him two years ago after he met Byrne and her sister, who were cleaning up the beach at the Queen’s Park.

Balasiuk is frustrated by “the fact that we do have these beautiful parks down here and people still feel comfortable just disposing their trash,” he told The Lake Report.

After talking to staff at A Greener Future, Balasiuk said he realized the litter isn’t only due to people dropping it. Sometimes trash can be accidentally blown out of garbage bins on a windy day, he said.

Balasiuk said he looks forward to seeing how many kids will attend this year’s cleanup.

“The more kids show up, the more influence we make,” said Balasiuk.

 “The saying (goes), ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’, so I’m going to start with the pups.”

He’d also love to have tourists show interest or take part as well.

Cigarette butts and pieces of plastic are the two most collected items during the cleanup, said Byrne. 

Most people who smoke think that the cigarette butts are biodegradable, but they are not because of the plastic contained inside.

Nurdles or plastic pellets, which are used for manufacturing plastic products, can also be found on almost every beach, said Byrne.

She also recalled collecting strange items along various beaches, including vacuum tubes, toilet seats, sports equipment, single socks, oven racks, carpets, doormats and a full eggplant.

Before the program started, Byrne would pick up the litter in her spare time or organize community cleanups. She said she then felt like something “more organized” and more “impactful” for Lake Ontario had to be done.

“Over the years as I picked up more and more (litter), I’ve realized it’s not a problem that is related to just litterbugs throwing stuff to the ground,” Byrne told The Lake Report in a phone interview. “It’s a problem that’s related to our consumption as a society.”

“It’s sad but every time we do this project, we pick up just as much litter as the year before. It doesn’t seem like the problem is getting any better and that can be really discouraging,” she said.

“But at the same time, I think it helps demonstrate that we need to make changes in our society not necessarily because people are littering but because we’re consuming too many single-use products.”

After garbage is collected, the organization’s staff sorts it. Appropriate material is recycled and composted and the rest is sent to landfill. 

Cigarette butts are sent to TerraCycle by mail and textile items are dropped off at proper recycling locations.

Volunteers picked up their one-millionth piece of litter in Kingston last year.

“Funny enough, our millionth piece was a party horn,” said Byrne. Reaching that milestone had been Byrne’s goal since the organization was established.

Another big problem is plastic tampon applicators. During last year’s cleanup, Byrne’s team picked up 33 applicators in NOTL alone. 

A lot of people don’t realize that when they flush down tampon applicators, they can end up in the lake and then get washed up on the beach, said Byrne.

Her petition to stop making plastic applicators, addressed to Tampax and Procter & Gamble, has almost 150,000 signatures. When the organization collects enough plastic applicators, the whole pile will be sent to Tampax, said Byrne.

“If everyone was a little bit more aware about the individual impact they’re having, it would make a lot easier to solve all these big problems,” she said.