Bill Godfrey at war against litter in Brampton

I grew up accepting the “green” ideology. Who litters rather than trying to reduce, reuse and recycle? I spent a morning recently helping a local senior and a group of young volunteers clean up parts of the Etobicoke Creek. It was a harsh reality check.

Bill Godfrey, the founder of the People Against Litter (PAL) lead the morning excursion. He started off by showing us some of the smaller things that had come out of the creek. A variety of lost and broken knick-knacks. Bill excitedly displayed one of his recent finds, a plastic phone book cover from 1988. I wasn’t expecting to find much trash once we ventured into our clean-up area, mostly because Bill had told us that he goes in regularly to clean it up.

It didn’t take long to fill large black bags. In a wooded area Bill regularly clears, we found milk bags, teddy bears, plastic gloves, and plastic bottles. All of that paled in comparison to what came later, and what comes directly out of the creek.

At 73 years young, it was impressive when Bill put on his high rubber boots and climbed down into the creek. Who willingly does that? There was the outline of a bicycle wheel that Bill had spotted on a previous trip. He pried, shook and eventually pulled out an entire bicylce from the mud below the water. Later, we found another bike and six feet long iron rods. Just a normal day for Bill. There was nothing a passerby would notice to suggest there was this much litter and contamination just a few steps from the beaten path.

Brampton has a history dating back to the 1800’s of being the Flowertown for the luscious greenery and a thriving floriculture industry. The more litter that is left in our parks and green spaces, the further we stray from what defines our city and makes it beautiful. In a park that is cleaned regularly by Bill and his volunteers, we picked up over a thousand pieces of litter. Imagine what it’s like in the parks, wooded areas and green spaces that PAL doesn’t have volunteers cleaning up.

Bill was quick to point out that the problem of littering can’t be solved with a single-pronged approach. Immediately upon entering the park, he showed us how there were multiple garbage cans surrounding the area, but not a single recycling bin. In order to combat a problem, change needs to be demanded from everyone – citizens and governments.

Being an environmentally conscious city goes beyond just providing each household with a big blue box. It takes real work, effort, and education. Seeing how dire the problem is put into perspective how important it is to not only demand change, but also create change. Thanks to local citizens like Bill, and everyone else involved in PAL, the change that we want is a little bit closer.

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Bill Godfrey on a Saturday morning cleanup of the Etobicoke Creek in Brampton Aug 2020.

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