By Kalinowski, Tim on April 15, 2019.
While Lethbridge residents seem to be getting the message about the importance of coulee cleanup when it comes to litter and wind-blown debris, there is more work to do on the issues of shoreline litter, dog scat and especially cigarette butts.
So says Helen Schuler resource development co-ordinator Curtis Goodman, who spoke to the Community Issues Committee about these problems at city hall last week.
“When we look at cigarette butts in particular, we know they pose a serious hazard pollution-wise to wildlife,” explained Goodman.
“When we look at the research done by the Vancouver Aquarium on bird autopsies and fish autopsies for instance, they are starting to find every single specimen they are autopsying has some cigarette butt contamination in their digestive tracts. That is serious because we know cigarettes contain a whole range of harmful chemicals. And when that leaches into our environment it has longstanding detrimental impact.”
Goodman said a staggering 43 per cent of shoreline debris found along the Oldman River in Lethbridge is cigarette butts.
“That is something that is literally at the tip of the fingers, and can be stopped in an instant simply by packing out your butts,” explained Goodman. “Beyond the environmental impacts to our river valley, the fire hazard posed by a butt which is flicked out of a moving vehicle can instantly wipe out many acres through grassfire. It is something we want to avoid when we live in an arid, grassland environment. Grassfires are a serious threat to everybody. It is something we need to take seriously. It is not only a health hazard, it’s a safety issue.”
Goodman felt it might be time for city council to consider taking drastic action to curtail the problem, and drive the message home for local smokers not to pollute in this way. He suggested council might consider some form of municipal cigarette levy to fund local cleanup efforts.
“The City of San Diego put a surcharge on cigarettes recognizing they were the number-one piece of trash found anywhere in the city,” Goodman explained by way of example. “The cigarette company lobby fought that and went to court. That tax stuck, and now that cigarette butt tax in San Diego is funding conservation efforts.”
Goodman stressed he did not know if such a surcharge would work in Lethbridge or not.
“Is that an idea for Lethbridge? I don’t know,” he said. “I am interested in what’s happening in other jurisdictions and the creative ways they are using to solve that problem. If we could make sure that garbage is placed where it belongs, and we could eliminate 43 per cent of shoreline litter in Lethbridge – that’s worth trying.”
The issue of dog scat is another where Lethbridge residents as a whole have been slow on the uptake despite the current bylaws already in place, said Goodman. The Helen Schuler Nature Centre experimented with a flag campaign marking dog scat locations last year to inform residents of how widespread the problem of uncollected dog feces was in the city’s coulee areas. But to little or no avail, said Goodman, as the problem continued despite the prominence of that campaign.
“Even with the awareness campaign of putting flags in place of removed scat, it hasn’t changed behaviour,” he confirmed. “Something needs to change. There really isn’t a good excuse to not pick up after your dog.”
Goodman suggested to council that stronger enforcement may ultimately be needed to make a dent in the problem.
“I know we have bylaws on the books for this reason – because it has been recognized throughout Lethbridge’s history it’s a problem,” stated Goodman. “And it is an undesirable behaviour. So is it a matter of enforcing the bylaw we already have? That may be worth a try. Because if we can have a targeted blitz, and see what effect that has over time, it might be more effective than placing flags in dog runs.”
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