Reflections of a garbage collector

Regional commentary by Joe McWilliams

The other day while out picking up garbage along the Allarie Trails in Slave Lake, I came across the following items:

A set of car keys, a bicycle, three shopping carts, various articles of clothing, some high schoolers’ homework, and a plastic bag, tied up, heavy, dripping and smelling pretty bad. I briefly considered untying the bag to find out what was in there, but visions of grisly discoveries from too many cop shows started occurring to me, and I thought I was better off not knowing.

Some of this stuff was on CN Rail property by the bridge over Sawridge Creek. This is a notorious spot in our town. It’s been a hangout for decades – off and on – for people who tend to leave a mess behind them. It’s fair to say keeping the community free of litter isn’t among their priorities.

Keeping the railway right of way free of trash also isn’t a priority of the property owner, so it comes down to volunteers, doing the once-per-year community clean-up campaign. It annoys me, frankly, to have to clean up other people’s garbage. But it irritates me even more to have to look at it lying around. It disturbs my peace of mind. So I roll up my sleeves and in the process, learn a thing or two about what some people get up to. Maybe about myself as well.

Some of the litterers are just kids, goofing off, showing off, trying to be cool. One of the uncool things they don’t want to be seen doing, evidently, is hanging on to their Big Gulp cups until they come across a trash can. Nope, gotta just chuck it. Same goes for chip bags, chocolate bar wrappers, you name it. I could go on and on about the stupidity of teenagers, but having been one myself, I’d better not.

Then there are the denizens of the night. I don’t know who these people are, and it’s probably good that I don’t.

You find their beer cans, cheap whisky containers, cigarette packages and – less often – drug paraphernalia, especially after a weekend. The harder cases leave even less pleasant signs of their rough lifestyles strewn about, about which the less said the better.

Speaking of which, I was working away alongside the trail, filling my town-supplied garbage bag, when along came a fellow who wanted to know what I was doing. He was quite unsteady on his feet, but was in a mellow and friendly mood. He seemed very impressed when I explained what I was up to. He acted as if he had never come across such a thing, and asked if he could help.

‘Sure!’ I said, and handed him a bag. He put in about five minutes and then shuffled off. I found a large, empty Listerine bottle next to where he’d put down his bag. It hadn’t been there a few minutes earlier. It explained the smell coming off of him, I guess.

Having said all of that…..now is about the time I should be wrapping up all this storytelling into a compelling point or maybe even a moral lesson. Boys and girls, if you don’t want to end up like the man in the story…..

But hey, that’s life. We’re in the middle of it, and it contains lots of pleasant as well as unpleasant things. There are way worse things than a bit of garbage lying around. It would be nice if people smartened up, took some pride in their community and made more effort to keep it looking nice. But we do what we can with what we have, and I’m grateful there are people willing to pitch in once a year to make things look better.

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