Albert Shamess: Litter cleanups protect Vancouver’s shoreline and support cleaner, greener spaces

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      By Albert Shamess

      June 9th is Federal Cleanup Day. To acknowledge this day, the City of Vancouver wants to say thank you!

      With warm, sunny weather returning to Vancouver, we’re feeling especially grateful toward the thousands of Vancouver residents, businesses, and neighbourhood groups who volunteer in the City of Vancouver’s Keep Vancouver Spectacular litter cleanup program each spring and summer.

      Over the past 22 years, 99,356 bags of litter have been collected and 3,784 cleanups have been completed by 253,544 volunteers. They show tremendous community spirit and these community-led actions support our collective effort to keep our streets, sidewalks, and green spaces safe and clean for everyone to enjoy.

      The work done by these volunteers is a tremendous addition to what we do as the City of Vancouver—the street cleaning, the garbage and green bin pickup, and so on. Without these people, who show their love for Vancouver by picking up discarded materials, our beautiful city wouldn’t be as great as it is.

      If everyone decided to show their love for Vancouver by committing to pick up one piece of litter a day, that would make a huge difference and it might just inspire a greater sense of love for our communities. Litter cleanups and graffiti removal isn’t just about “picking up garbage”; it’s an amazing way for people to demonstrate that they care about our city. Most of what we pick up through street cleaning and litter cleanups are single-use items like coffee cups, cigarette butts, and takeout containers. Often, these are items that some people might not even consider are litter. But they are.

      At the City of Vancouver we’ve been dovetailing two concepts: public-realm cleanliness and a zero-waste future.

      One thing is coming into clear focus: by choosing to reduce, reuse, compost, and recycle as an everyday commitment, you directly contribute to reducing litter and help Vancouver move closer to a zero-waste future.

      Remembering to bring a reusable mug to the coffee shop the next time you need a caffeine boost, becoming a master recycler in your building, or leading a litter cleanup in your neighbourhood are all great ways to support zero waste.

      We’ve been talking a lot recently about how to help the downtown stay clean and green, and we like to joke that the downtown is like a mountaintop and should be treated as such: everyone should use the “pack-it-in/pack-it-out” method, leaving no litter, only their footprints behind.

      At first, it sounds crazy, but hear me out. If you come to one of our amazing beaches or parks and you bring a picnic or snack, taking all your items back to your home where they can be properly sorted for recycling and picked up on a regular collection schedule helps to ensure your materials are recycled properly, and helps to reduce the amount of waste that needs to be managed in one centralized area of our city. You’re helping to spread it around, which makes it easier for our collection crews.

      On our side, we’ve committed to increasing enforcement and other initiatives to ensure our public spaces are safe, clean, and green. We’ve added 27 new staff to help respond faster to 3-1-1 and VanConnect reports of overflowing receptacles, illegal dumping, and abandoned garbage. We’ve also made it easier to get litter into a bin by adding 150 new garbage receptacles in hot spots and high-demand areas across the city and will continue to expand garbage and on-street recycling stations throughout downtown.

      Properly disposing of your garbage goes a long way. Garbage illegally dumped in a laneway, on the street, or in a park—if not cleaned up promptly—attracts more garbage. Abandoned garbage can also cause health and environmental risks, sends a message that illegal activity is tolerated in our neighbourhoods, and costs taxpayers over a million dollars a year. By increasing our service levels and enforcement, our crews are better equipped to create a cleaner Vancouver.

      So on this Federal Cleanup Day, we at the City of Vancouver extend a huge thank you to all volunteers who lead litter cleanups through Keep Vancouver Spectacular (sign up at and I hope that everyone can join us in making a commitment to pick up one piece of litter a day to help keep Vancouver clean and green.

      Albert Shamess is the director of waste management with the City of Vancouver.