To catch a litterpig
By Jim Poling
Published Oct. 17, 2017
“We’ve got a good one,” Scully calls out.
She holds it up, examining it carefully before dropping it into a plastic evidence bag.
“It’s recent,” she says, “maybe this morning.”
“Perfect,” I reply. “No frost last night or even heavy dew. We should get what we need from it.”
Scully grins, smile creases forming around her deep blue eyes, which match the colour of her blue latex lab gloves.
I am lucky to have her as my partner, seconded from the X Files. Fox Mulder, her weird regular sidekick, is not happy but he can live without her because our work here is more important than investigating supernatural stuff.
We are working the stretch of Highway 35 between Minden and Dorset, one of the most heavily littered pieces of highway in the province. Our mission: catch litterpigs and make them pay for their stupidity.
What Scully bagged was a Coke can tossed out the window of a passing car. Advancements in DNA and fingerprinting could lead us to the person who pitched the litter and bring them to justice.
I had walked 696 steps on one side of the highway just south of the Frost Centre. I found 27 beer or pop cans, 13 plastic water bottles and coffee cups, nine juice boxes, five cigarette packs and a variety of plastic containers, and other confection cartons. In all, 63 items, one piece of garbage for every 20 steps.
Tossing crap onto roadsides is environmental crime and Scully and I are determined to stop it. We have to because no one else will. The Ontario government has no anti-littering strategy, and says that roadside litter is a municipal responsibility.
That is short-sighted because littering is a slap in Mother Nature’s face, one that damages plant life, hurts birds, fish and animals and stains the beauty of our countryside. And, Mother Nature slaps back. Just ask the folks in Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico and California.
Litterpigs are not your typical don’t-give-a-damn hardened criminals. They are simply slow thinkers. Many litter because they wrongly believe that litter breaks down much quicker than it actually does.
An aluminum pop can take 80 to 200 years to break down. That can could be recycled and put to another use in a matter of weeks.
Cigarette butt filters, the world’s most common litter, take up to 10 years to decompose.
Five trillion cigarettes are smoked each year worldwide, the filters of which weigh in total about two billion pounds. Canadians alone toss tons of butts into the environment.
Even a Tim Hortons cardboard coffee cup, a popular piece of litter in Ontario, takes weeks to years to break down depending on where it ends up.
Decomposition times of some other items found along Highway 35: paper bag – one month; wool glove – one year; plastic bag – 20 to 1,000 years; plastic jug – one million years; glass – one to two million years; disposable diaper – 550 years; banana peel – three to four weeks.
Most of us are tempted to litter at times, especially if we are not being watched. Statistics Brain, a U.S. research institute, says 75 per cent of Americans admitted to littering some time in the last five years.
Littering begets littering. Studies show that people are more likely to litter a highway or beach that already has been littered.
Scully and I intend to stop that from happening on Highway 35.
Backs bent and heads down we are raking the ditches with our eyes when suddenly an odd-sounding car horn blares. I grab Scully and pull her to me to prevent her from being hit.
When I open my eyes I am holding my bed pillow, not Scully. The alarm clock is blaring on the table beside my bed. Scully, the Coke can and the hopes of nailing a litterpig all have been a dream.
I get out of bed, shower, dress and get ready for my morning walk along Highway 35. I’ll scan the ditches to see what the litterpigs have left since my last walk. That’s when reality turns my nighttime sweet dream into a daytime nightmare.