Cleaning in Parkdale

Garbage Picking (Up) in Parkdale

Hmmm....picking up other peoples' garbage? Voluntarily?

I mean, do people really do that... for free?

Actually, on my street (and many others), they do. Anybody can register with Mayor Miller's Community Cleanup Day, and participate in a community street cleanup. And the City recognizes the effort and helps out by offering special collection of garbage and debris on the day of the cleanup.

Our street's cleanup is organized by Parkdale Musician/Photographer/Super Neighbour Anthony Wilson, our neighbour to our direct right. This is his sixth year organizing and handing out flyers. He says that each year about a dozen people participate. I am actually surprised there aren't more than that - his enthusiasm is hard to resist.

The day before the cleanup, I spoke to Wilson about garbage and was surprised to learn that he doesn't do this to make and keep the street clean. "Tomorrow it will be a huge mess again," he told me, "but that's not the point anyway."

Really? What is the point then? Why do we bother to clean up other peoples' garbage?

To me, voluntarily picking up garbage might be one of those personal duties that I feel that I 'should' carry out from time to time, but that I never really want to do. But because I used way too many take-out coffee cups last week (despite recently buying a new sustainable coffee mug), I knew I just had to do it.

I asked Wilkins what he gets out of it. He described it as a humbling experience. "Sure, I get pissed," he admitted, "but I try to think of it more as a practice, or meditation." I wondered if I could possibly feel the same way about doing it the next day.

On Saturday morning we got up, walked the dog, and caught up with Anthony and a couple of other neighbours. Right away, we met several new, great people and I began feeling all nice and neighbourly.

We were told the alleyway behind the house was the first target. We grabbed our shovel, rake, several garbage bags, and a broom - and got to work. There were several more neighbours and families back there who cheerfully introduced themselves, while picking up garbage together. Happily.

It was the first hot and sunny day of the year and I wished I had gotten more into it and brought out lemonade or something. How had we not met all these people yet? They were just a few more houses up then the usual folks we saw.

Even though we weren't out there for long, I noticed that the more we worked, the less concern I felt about the grossness we were picking up. Instead, I started wondering if maybe we need to change our attitudes about things we 'should' do (like washing out moldy containers in the fridge instead of tossing them, taking time to sweep out the shared lobby of our buildings, taking that can out of the office garbage and putting it in the recycling). And no more takeout coffee cups for me.

Want to get involved? Organize your own street cleanup by registering with the city here.

Photo: Anthony Wilson, MacDonell neighbours by Sylvain Dumais

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