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Volunteers needed to pitch in to help clean up Orillia

'The whole idea is to clean the waterfront and all the trails and parks and streets,' says Bob Bowles; Event slated for Saturday, May 4

Plastic is killing us.

Bob Bowles, a local environmentalist, feels strongly about the destruction of the Earth at the hands of plastic.

To play his part, he started a trail clean-up event two decades ago. In the last few years, the city of Orillia's Environmental Advisory Committee has also come on board, said the Orillia resident.

The clean up is part of the National Pitch-in Week, which typically takes place at the end of April. Bowles said he changed it to the first weekend of May, hoping that the ice will have receded by then and to avoid snow.

“The whole idea of this is to clean the waterfront and all the trails and parks and streets,” said Bowles. “After winter, the snow is gone and you see paper, coffee cups, and plastic around. So it's just sort of a clean sweep of the city.”

The problem is it all gets swept into the water and, potentially, eaten by aquatic animals and birds, he added.

“It's disconcerting to have garbage in the water, because it gets ingested by aquatic life,” said Bowles, adding the clean-up teams are only able to clean up what's been washed ashore.

On May 4, the day of the clean up, volunteers gather at 8:30 a.m. at the Peace Garden, part of Veteran’s Park, to collect gloves and garbage bags and set off to their assigned locations around the city.

All are asked to come back to the registration table before 1 p.m., because that’s when city garbage trucks carry off the collected debris.

“Some years we have had six truck loads full of plastic garbage,” said Bowles.

He couldn't peg down a number of volunteers, noting it varies from year-to-year based on a number of factors - including weather.

“We try to engage all age groups, but I feel the students are important,” Bowles said. “It's really for them.

“Every year, we're losing more and more species and we have more plastics and microbeads and toxic chemicals in the water,” he added.

Aside from a clean up, Bowles said, it's also about education.

“People think that biodegradable bags for pet waste are OK to be left on the side of the road,” he said. “The trouble is that (this) defeats the whole idea. The idea is you want to keep all that nitrogen and phosphorous out of the water.”

Bowles said more action is needed by people and manufacturers to reduce waste.

More and more stores are encouraging people to bring in their own containers for shopping, he said.

The event encourage reduction of plastic and reusable products, Bowles said.

“Brewery Bay and Rustica Pizza give us reusable water bottles, which people can fill with water supplied by The Water Store,” he said. “This year, Gini Stringer from Sunshine Carpet and Flooring is giving us travel coffee mugs. Aknor Construction is giving us reusable lunch bags to give to participants.”

Aside from that, Bowles said, other businesses pitch in, too, such as Pizzaville, which provides food for the day, and coffee, hot chocolate, and timbits are provided by Tim Hortons.

And, of course, the volunteers are what make it all happen, he said. He encourages anyone interested to be at Veterans' Park on May 4 to pitch in.