Dirty mask picked up from a lake

Photo by A Greener Future


Written by: Alexandra Mitnik


Who do you call when there’s litter on the lake? Oshawa-based organization ‘A Greener Future’ would be a good bet. Founded in 2014, A Greener Future has a goal of promoting environmental preservation in the Lake Ontario area and beyond through cleanups, data collection, education projects, and other events. This July, I interviewed Nicole Henderson, a volunteer turned full-time-program-coordinator, to find out more about the nonprofit.

Q: From May 15 to June 30, a group of 81 people hosted 266 garbage cleanups with the goal to pick up 100,000 waste items off the lake Ontario shoreline. They surpassed this and, by the end of A Greener Future’s ‘Love Your Lake’ initiative, collected 119,112: a new record. How do cleanups like A Greener Future’s help the environment and what advice would you give to people who want to one day participate? 

A: When people litter, the objects they leave behind leach chemicals into nature, injure animals, and make animals sick. However, if said objects are picked up quickly, the amount of damage they’re able to do is reduced (or sometimes prevented altogether). Nicole reminds that “You don’t have to go out and pick up every single item that you see on the ground to make a difference. […] It is important to remember that every little bit helps and a bunch of small actions can help make a large impact.” 

Community cleanups are like litter scavenger hunts where you can bring friends and family, learn from others, and help protect a place you love. While cleaning, though, remember to keep track of your surroundings and be safe: “Never pick up something with your bare hands, always use gloves or a litter picker and do not collect anything you don’t feel comfortable with.” 

Q: After Love Your Lake cleanups end, A Greener Future recruits artists to make pieces of art from the pieces of litter. This year, 11 artists from the Greater Toronto Area are taking part. How did the idea for the litter art project come about? 

A: Only a small portion of the waste A Greener Future collects is recyclable, so, if not used for something else, the rest would have had to be sent to a landfill. Rochelle Byrne, the executive director of A Greener Future, found a solution to this by asking a friend if she’d be interested in making art from the litter. Afterwards, Rochelle realized that A Greener Future had plenty of litter- enough for “a crew of artists with different perspectives and art styles that could help spread our message.” 

Q: When A Greener Future’s cleanups began, the nonprofit noticed something astounding: over 75% of garbage volunteers found was cigarette butts. In your opinion, why may cigarette litter be so prevalent? 

A: When people become used to tossing their cigarette butts on the ground, it’s hard for them to change their actions, especially if they don’t know what littering does to the environment or there aren’t easy alternatives for getting rid of the butts properly. This could explain why public places that ban smoking (e.g. beaches, parks, parking lots, etc…) are also places with the most cigarette litter. A way to combat that issue is through “providing a specific place for disposal at these locations before entering them” since the accessibility would supply an option to throw out cigarettes right.

Q: After each piece of garbage is picked up at one of A Greener Future’s cleanups, the volunteers record data about it. Why is data about litter important and what have you learned by looking at it? 

A: By collecting data on the most littered items, the frequency of each item, the locations where each item is often found, and trends in all that data over time, A Greener Future gathers “a starting point for determining alternatives and long term solutions” about litter in most need of reduction. From an individual point of view, looking at this data can also help clear misconceptions you might have about the amount and content of litter around you. Nicole adds that “Seeing the totals really inspires me to keep doing my part in picking up litter when I see it and focusing on advocating for the protection and preservation of the environment.” 

Q: Are there any special things happening at A Greener Future later this year that readers should look forward to? 

A: “There are plenty of upcoming opportunities to be excited about!” If you’re currently a high schooler, be on the lookout for the launch of A Greener Future’s community service hours program in September. For those 19 and over, September is also the start of the Fall Butt Blitz, where this year’s goal is to collect 1,000,000 littered cigarette butts across Canada. Additionally, stay tuned for information on an Ambassador program. 

Want to learn more about A Greener Future? 

Browse www.agreenerfuture.ca to explore what the organization has to offer and subscribe to their monthly newsletter or follow their social media accounts on Instagram (@agreenerfuture), Twitter (@agreenerfuture), and Facebook (@thegreenerteam).