It was mercifully coolish and overcast at Humber Bay Park last Monday. We were hosting a waterfront visit with the good people from Evergreen and Muskoka Brewery. Their freshwater fund is helping Lake Ontario Waterkeeper pay for water quality monitoring this summer.
This is our go-to spot for group events, because we can always count on a fresh supply of sewage debris. It’s a great place to show people what toilet waste and plastic pollution look like.
We spent the first hour showing the volunteers how to test the lake for bacteria (which comes from sewage, comes from toilets and dishwashers and businesses). Then we spent an hour collecting debris (mostly plastic) from the shoreline.
“We just cleaned this two weeks ago,” one of the intrepid Waterkeeper staffers said (I think it was Matt Flowers, whom we just call Flowers). He was dismayed that the debris came back, but not surprised.
There was some post-weekend-in-the-park debris: a quarter of a cucumber and a watermelon rind and a squishy mango core scattered among the inevitable plastic water bottles. But a lot of the debris wasn’t litter. It was stuff people had flushed down their toilets. Tampon applicators, mostly, and lots of them.
Left alone, sewage debris scares away would-be beach-goers, people who could have become stewards of the lake if they’d only been given a chance to connect with the water. Sewage debris is also horrible for fish and wildlife and water quality. I’m happy that people have volunteered to pick this stuff up.
But I never want to do a beach cleanup like this again.
“Isn’t that your job?” you might be thinking … “Isn’t that what environmental groups do?”
Well yes and no. There are fantastic organizations who run beach cleanups, like Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup and Alliance for the Great Lakes and A Greener Future to name just a few. We love the volunteers who attend Waterkeeper cleanups and value the research data they provide.
But there’s more we can do.
Waterkeeper isn’t here to make it easier for big cities like Toronto to dump raw sewage into Lake Ontario. It’s not our job to pick up, to wipe away, to remove all traces of Toronto’s pollution to make life a little more comfortable for our neighbours for a day or two at most. The problem needs a real solution.
Sewage and plastics are killing Lake Ontario. Whether it’s plastic fibres working their way into fish flesh or pharmaceuticals infecting frogs, every flush of the toilet is an insult for the lake to bear.
When I saw the sewage debris, I couldn’t help but wonder how west end kids might describe Lake Ontario today. They are more likely to discover tampons than trilobites when they visit the beach. What does that say about our city?
We need to find long-term solutions, ones that will end sewage pollution altogether. Beach cleanups aren’t enough.
The next time I see sewage debris, I’m not sure if I’ll bend over and start picking up the waste. I think I’ll text a photo to @311Toronto instead and ask them send someone out. I’m doing my part. Let’s see the City do theirs.
When I see sewage pollution, I will alert @311Toronto. That’s #MyGreatLakesPromise.
The My Great Lakes Promise Campaign (#MyGLPromise) is an online effort to unite the public through small acts that make a big difference for the Great Lakes. It runs until August 9, 2017. Click here for more information.