I recently had a letter to mail and the nearest mailbox, in my area, is one block away. Since the weather was lovely, I decided to take a walk to the mailbox and do an experiment along the way.
When I left my house, I took a couple of plastic bags. My goal was simple: See how much garbage I could pick up during the short walk from my house to the mailbox. The results were fascinating.
By the time I made it half way to the mailbox, I had already filled a full bag of garbage. Its contents included pop cans, chocolate bar wrappers, plastic containers, half-filled bottles of water, newspapers, bus transfers, chip bags, plastic utensils, and a box of organic chicken bouillon. Wow!
Where did all this garbage come from? Did one of the garbage bins by the curb get knocked over by mistake? Did the local racoons host a feast for a furry family reunion in the neighbourhood? I continued my walk towards the mailbox and discovered more garbage along the sidewalk, grass, flower beds, and street.
As I walked onward, past people waiting at the bus stop, I realised that some of them were looking at me with a confused expression. Perhaps it is unusual to see a man walking down the sidewalk, picking up garbage as he goes. I smiled politely at them and carried on -their faces suggested that they thought I might be out of my mind!
Turning the corner, I saw a man and his two sons, about 8 and 10 years old, walking on the opposite side of the street. He noticed what I was doing, and pointed for his sons to look. “Great job!” he shouted across the street with a smile, gesturing to his kids to observe and learn. “Thanks!” I replied. “We have a lovely community. I’m just doing my part to keep it that way.” The man’s friendly words felt good. His children might remember how easy it is to use one of the many City of Toronto garbage and recycling bins. They might encourage others. A simple thing might grow.
The walk to the mailbox and back took a total of 10 minutes. The letter was safely mailed. I filled two full bags of garbage from that single street block.
Back at home, I thought about my experiment and what I had learned. When reading the news, I often find myself feeling helpless to make a difference. I cannot fix all of the problems. Picking up two bags of garbage means very little on the larger scale of the city, country, or planet. Yet, I did not feel that same helplessness. Instead, I felt closer to my community. I would wish that pleasant feeling upon you as well, because you too can do one small thing here and another small thing there to make our Downsview community a little prettier, a little more comfortable, a little more our home. You don’t need any special skills. You don’t need to be rich. You don’t need bountiful free time. You can help keep our community green and clean, one short walk at a time.