One Scarborough resident believes that although the cleaning up of litter we see is a noble effort, an absence of litter in the first place would be much nicer.
Sheila White, president of Toronto’s WORDS Media & Communications Inc., has been combating the littering mindset for over 15 years, with her efforts based in Scarborough.
In an attempt to influence the province to highlight the problem of littering and include it on the public agenda, White has filed an application to Ontario Environmental Minister Gord Miller requesting that he review the province’s lack of an anti-littering policy.
“We ran clean-up days for 15 years (and still do). No sooner was the job done than the litter would return,” White said. “ We began to think deeply about how to change littering behaviors, mainly so that we wouldn’t have to repeatedly clean up other people’s messes, a strategy that didn’t address the root problem.”
Founder of a litter prevention program, White has spearheaded an abundance of anti-littering programs in Scarborough aimed at reshaping the mindset of young children that leads to littering in the first place.
Through her efforts, White has adopted music to help communicate her message. Three main songs, “Put It In Your Pocket, Not On The Ground,” “Don’t Leave Home Without Your Litter Bag,” and “Bend Down, Pick It Up, Put It In The Basket,” complete with sing-along choruses and actions drive home the anti-littering message. It is this marriage between fun, creativity and an important message that has made White such an enduring presence in the Scarborough community.
“Everything we do is creative and positive and makes participants feel like champions and captains who have a contribution to make,” she said. “All the research tells us that this is the way to go and it’s proving to work, perhaps in part because music stimulates a different part of the brain.”
It is the feedback she receives from Scarborough children, such as long-time resident David Johnston Weiser, who remembers White’s anti-littering songs from his own childhood, that reinforce the good work she is doing.
“I definitely remember her songs. Growing up in Scarborough I always heard them in school and other places,” Weiser said. “I think it’s a great way to get the anti-littering message across to kids. If there is one thing that can get stuck in a kid’s head, it’s a catchy song.”
Music and spreading the anti-littering message to children is far from where White’s efforts conclude. Her application that the province review its anti-littering policies has already been forwarded to the Ministry of the Environment, which has until Jan. 20, 2013 to advise whether a review will commence or not. If the ministry decides to undertake a review, it must provide White with a copy of that review within 30 days of its completion.
White, who is fervently pushing for the policy changes, believes that the province is not doing enough to curb littering.
“I’d like to see comprehensive legislation and a strategy for dealing with litter, including education, research, awareness, funding, industry involvement and policy directives similar to Manitoba’s green goal of 75 per cent diversion within two years through its Recycle Everywhere program,” White said. “There’s so much a provincial government could do, but first it must be willing to look at the problem thoughtfully and shake the policy inertia that has put us far behind other nations of the world in dealing with littering.”
Despite what White describes as a lack of effort on the part of the province, she contends that children are very environmentally aware. A combination of a more extensive anti-littering policy with continued efforts to instill anti-littering attitudes at a young age would do wonders to help curb the littering conflict, she says.