An avid London-area cyclist is waging a one-person war on litter along roads on the city’s outskirts, cleaning up everything from discarded mattresses to dirty diapers and empty bottles.
Peggy Vandenberg, 60, who lives near the Highway 401 and Highbury Avenue, says she’s fed up with the trash she’s come across during the years.
“It’s disappointing,” she said. “The city has enough facilities. There’s no reason to be dumping garbage on the side of the road.”
For more than two years, Vandenberg has driven her all-terrain vehicle (ATV) around her neighbourhood, cleaning up all kinds of litter, mostly coffee cups and empty alcohol bottles, she said.
In March 2020, she said, she used a pitchfork to clean at least 100 used diapers off the roadside.
“I saw this pile of something in a little driveway into a farmer’s field, and when I went to look at it, it was a pile of diapers, adults’ and children’s diapers,” she said. “I thought, who would have this much? . . . It made no sense.”
Vandenberg and her husband, who have lived outside London for more than 30 years, recently noticed a worrisome trend in trash dumped along roads south of the 401, where they cycle almost daily, she said.
“There’s more traffic that comes through. It used to be all fields, but now we have more industry and workers,” she said, adding that’s led to more garbage.
She started picking up litter so frequently, her husband made her a trash-picking device, she said.
Now, using that and her ATV, Vandenberg drives the roads to collect trash and take it to the Green Valley Recycling Corp., a recycling facility located close to her home.
“We see a lot (of garbage) on the sides of roads and different abandoned sites and things like that,” said Rick Declercq, the company’s president and co-owner. “We get quite a few calls for cleaning those up.”
He said there’s more garbage in the springtime, when a lot of community groups will begin their clean-up efforts.
Dumping of construction debris and other trash is illegal in London, with fines varying from a few hundred to thousands of dollars.
John Parsons, the city’s manager of transportation and roadside operations, said there is no formal process to patrol for litter, but he encourages people to report and photograph any problems through the Service London portal at service.london.ca.
Vandenberg said she reached out to city hall this week, asking it to put up no-littering signs, noting she’s seen them on other area roads.
“When I see garbage, I want to come back again and pick it up. It’s nice to keep (the roadsides) clean, there are so many beautiful sites,” she said, citing the deer and wildlife in the area.
Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press