AFTER discovering cigarette butts underfoot and seeing plastic bags in the breeze on her walk to work, one North Vancouver woman has become bitter over litter.
"As I walk to work along Mount Seymour Parkway, I started noticing more and more litter and particularly these plastic bags that are flowing over from Superstore," said Elise Roberts.
The former coastal naturalist for Parks Canada started organizing trash pickups in her East Seymour neighbourhood, regularly attracting between five and 15 environmentally conscious volunteers.
"I've always been a person who picks up litter around the neighbourhood, and when I lived in social housing down the street we'd organize events where we'd have little puppet shows about the environment and then we'd all go out and pick up litter in the forest," she said.
Roberts, who works at Ron Andrews Recreation Centre, has found fellow refuse-refusers in Brenda Barrick, president of the Inter-River Community Association and the Little Pickers, a volunteer youth group that picks up garbage in the District of North Vancouver.
"We all met and joined forces and now we organize litter cleanups together.
"But I'm wanting to take this a step further. . . . If you really take a good look you'll see that there are millions of cigarette butts on our roads," she said.
The problem may be an unfortunate byproduct of the antismoking movement, according to Roberts.
"There's no more ashtrays anywhere. People aren't allowed to smoke anywhere so they don't put in ashtrays."
Roberts is advocating for mandatory ashtrays in cars and for anti-litter messages on cigarette packs.
Far from a local eyesore, Roberts believes littering has global ramifications, filtering into the Salish Sea and creating a gyre of small bits of plastic in the northern reaches of the Pacific Ocean.
Part of the trouble is a lack of consciousness about litter, said Roberts, who is doing her best to remedy that problem.
"We've trained people to recycle but we haven't trained people to stop littering," she said, recollecting her youth of the 1950s. "Back then there were television commercials and jingles on TV not to throw litter."
To draw attention to the problem, Roberts has composed a rap song which includes rhymes like: "Far beyond where we live day to day, is an island of plastic where dolphins can't play."
She also dons an ocean costume that features fish carved from recycled Styrofoam and an assortment of debris.
"I had my fish swimming in a plastic coffee lid and I had plastic things hanging off my headdress. . . . I think people got the message," she said.