Sitting beside a collection of waste from the now-clean roadside behind him, Oliver wields his refillable mug and bottle and is happy to not to be part of the problem. Photo: Gilly Tew
Sitting beside a collection of waste from the now-clean roadside behind him, Oliver wields his refillable mug and bottle and is happy to not to be part of the problem. Photo: Gilly Tew

By Oliver Berger 

Earlier this summer I was heading home when I noticed stuffed garbage bags on the side of the road. One after the other, on the left side, then on the right side, then on the left side again. All of a sudden, there was some movement bobbing around in the ditch. It was a man I recognized and had spotted on my way home many times. He wore a reflective vest, handled a picker in one hand, and carried a garbage bag in the other. He was picking up garbage.

This time, however, I couldn’t just keep driving. I had to stop. Once pulled over, I shut the engine off, hopped out, and walked back along the shoulder of the busy rural road to this amazing soul and introduced myself.

He told me he had been picking garbage for many years and that he didn’t want any recognition for it. Rather, he does it only to keep fit and because, as he bluntly put it… “I hate garbage!” Luckily, I had my picker in my truck, so I grabbed it and quickly joined in. We worked for an hour or so, picking up plastic bags, many cans and bottles, fast food packaging, random pieces of cardboard, a plastic chair, and a huge chunk of tin. We rounded all his garbage bags off the side of the road and I offered to take the eight heavy bags plus all the extras to the dump for him. He was happy and I felt good.

So much junk ends up on the sides of the roads in our world, from blowing out of truck beds or just from the simple, careless act of tossing stuff out of vehicle windows—especially beverage containers like water bottles and coffee cups. Just ask a road biker; they will attest to this.

That rural road garbage picker inspired me so much I now spend a few hours here and there picking up garbage in different places. Back alleys, trail head parking lots, along a local biking or hiking trail, even just in front of my own home are some of my favourite spots to pick.

This good Environmental Samaritan did not just inspire me. Lately, I spot and hear from other people adopting a stretch of road, or a block in town, to pick up litter. Just this morning while I was walking through downtown Williams Lake, I saw two women picking up trash on the sidewalks and parking lots. What a difference an army of garbage pickers can make in and around our beautiful area.

Speaking of coffee cups, about four years ago I decided I no longer needed to use single-use coffee cups. I made this decision on January 1, making it my New Year’s Resolution for that year. In the beginning, it was hard to remember and bring my refillable mug, so to remember I would punish myself by not indulging in my morning java that day. Ouch. I quickly learned to pack an extra refillable mug in my car to avoid these situations. There was the odd day,  however, where I did cave in, so I diligently kept track of my weak moments and only committed this cheat 10 times during that year. Every year since then has been flawless and now I am proud to say I’ve only used 10 single-use coffee cups in four years!

Reducing our impact on the environment directly comes down to reducing our consumption in our lifestyles. It is hard to change overnight; this is why I chose the New Year as a chance to change one small habit in my life. One little change every year can be beneficial to our environment and our future.

Since my personal ban on single-use coffee cups, I have also stopped buying plastic water bottles and carry around a refillable ceramic-topped bottle in a wool sock. Furthermore, I refuse straws in my drinks when I go out for meals, and use only reusable bags when shopping. And if I forget that reusable bag, well, then I can only buy what I can carry in my hands or stuff in my jacket pockets. This mistake just so happens to also save me from spending too much money buying extra food or things I really do not need.

So, what’s your New Year’s Resolution going to be this year?


Oliver Berger has a 34-year degree in life, starting out in the Spokin Lake area, spending adolescence in Williams Lake, and then venturing throughout the world on a quest of always learning new things. His priorities include dedication to and education about waste management. 


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