Orangeville resident inspires York University’s Plastic Pickup Challenge

April 22, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Sam Odrowski

A local resident’s personal efforts to pick up litter and improve the environment has inspired an online challenge, being hosted by York University.

At the beginning of the month, Hailey Thomas-Squirrell of Orangeville saw that the ditches along Blind Line were filled with litter and decided to clean them up.

After filling two large garbage bags with trash, she sent a photo of them to her professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, Dr. Mark Terry, an environmentalist who also teaches at York, and he was inspired to start the Plastic Pickup Challenge. It’s an official Earth Day event where people are challenged to pick up plastic litter in their community.

“Her [Hailey’s] inspiring, self-motivated endeavour encouraged me to create the Challenge so all my students, friends, and family can follow Hailey’s example and do our part to clean up Earth for Earth Week,” said Dr. Terry in a recent post on social media. “Thank you, Hailey! You are everyone’s Eco-Hero!”

The challenge entails taking a clear garbage bag and filling it with as much discarded plastic bottles and packaging you can find, while maintain physical distancing and wearing gloves for safety.

Once the bag is full, you then take a photograph with it or of it and post the photo to your social media network with the hashtags’ #PlasticPickupChallenge, #YUEarthWeek and #EarthDay. Participants are also encouraged to challenge somebody else to do it themselves.

Lastly, dispose of your collected plastics in a recycling bin or nearby recycling centre.

To learn more about the challenge, visit:

Thomas-Squirrell said since her initial trash clean up at the start of April, she’s gone out and collected trash six other times.

Her key motivations are to reduce the amount of microplastics making their way into humans’ environment, reduce the amount of plastics ending up in waterways or the ocean, and improve the habitat of wild animals who are often inadvertently harmed through pollution.

“For me, like, I feel really good about myself after I do it… you know that you’re doing something good for the community, for the animals and for the environment generally,” Thomas-Squirrell explained.

She added that cleaning up litter can be kind of fun as well.

“You find such strange things, I found oil fryers the other day,” said Thomas-Squirrell. “That part is interesting, because you always kind of think like, oh how did this get here? What is the story behind this?”

She told the Citizen, families with younger children might enjoy getting out for some fresh air and seeing what they find while picking up trash.

Particularly with COVID-19, the garbage collection acts as a good way to do something that’s safe while getting decent exercise, lugging a bag of litter around.

While Thomas-Squirrell is currently pre-occupied with exams at Wilfrid Laurier University, she looks forward to picking up trash a few times a week through the summer.

She says one of the best places to pick up trash right now is along Highway 10, right across from Island Lake, near Kelsey’s restaurant. Along Veterans Way is another location where people can find a decent amount of pollution.

While York University’s Plastic Pick Up Challenge wraps up at the end of Earth Week on April 23 Thomas-Squirrell encourages everyone to hit the streets and clean up their community year-round.


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