Volunteers head out to clean up and beautify Toronto ahead of Earth Day 2024

There are several environmental events being held across Toronto over the weekend ahead of Earth Day on Monday. Nick Westoll has more on efforts to clean up and beautify the city.

As warmer spring weather begins to settle into the Toronto area, and with Earth Day coming up on Monday, thousands of volunteers are spreading out across the city to clean up and beautify it.

In the southwest corner of Toronto beside Etobicoke Creek early Saturday, around 100 people gathered beside the Trillium Health Partners Queensway Health Centre to plant a grove of 400 trees as a tribute to health care professionals who worked throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Because they’re permanent, because they live, because they produce oxygen, because they filter toxins out of rainwater and more than anything, when we live near trees and trees live near us, they’re awfully good for human health,” Mark Cullen told CityNews when asked why he and the volunteers chose to say thank you with trees.

Cullen is president of Trees for Life, a charity that works to add greenery in cities while also recognizing frontline workers. Going into Earth Day, he urged people to consider our connection with trees.

“[Trees] nurture one another and they nurture us. Why would you want to get out and nurture them? Why would you want to nurture your own family? The answer is the same,” he said.

“When you want to have a picnic and a heat wave this summer. You’re going to throw that picnic blanket not on the asphalt, you’re going to throw it underneath a tree and you’re going to thank the people that planted trees today, someday.”

However, Earth Day and the days leading up to it aren’t about trees alone. Many community cleanups were held in every corner of the city.

At Humber Bay Shores, the Humber Bay Shores Condo Association held its 27th annual community cleanup on Saturday. Organizers said they had 35 to 40 residents show up to pick up litter and debris at the waterfront park.

“This is a habitat for a lot of wildlife, so our waterfowl, our beavers … we want to protect it,” Emily Doyle, a director with the association, said.

“In partnership with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and the (City of Toronto) parks department, we all do our piece to help keep the area free so that our wildlife and natural beauty can remain.”

Doyle said volunteers pulled a large barrel from Lake Ontario and in the area they found pieces of a car, shoes, window blinds, cups, cans and construction items. She said high winds in the area, causing garbage bin lids to blow open and send items from construction sites flying, likely contribute to the problem along with people’s actions.

“We’re appreciative for all the help we received today,” Mary Ciufo, who also serves as an association director, said.

“I think it’s part of working and living here, keeping our community clean and enjoyable.”

“I think by people seeing us do this, it kind of resonates to them that they have to be responsible,” Doyle added.

Meanwhile, volunteers also sought to clear the area of cigarette butts. In downtown Toronto, getting rid of cigarette litter was a major focus of a cleanup at Berczy Park and the Toronto Sculpture Garden.

The problem of excessive litter in community spaces isn’t restricted to the west end. CityNews found garbage gathered at the side of the road across Toronto as well as along major corridors like the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway.

“Every spring we struggle with the litter that we find from that long, cold winter and this year is no exception,” deputy mayor Jennifer McKelvie said when asked about litter issues during a cleanup she was hosting in Malvern Saturday afternoon.

“We have 200 pieces of equipment that are out there picking up litter … spring clean-ups are happening by the City across all the roadways, but we also encourage residents to send in problematic areas to 311.”

McKelvie said careless littering has noticeable local impacts.

“[It] has an impact on our wildlife. It’s not there for them to eat and it gets in the way of what they do need to access. It clogs up our drains. It clogs up our systems,” she said.

“We’re all in this together and we all care for our planet. It’s important that volunteers are out helping because sometimes that litter can be hard to find.”

As we head out in the coming weeks to take advantage of the increasingly warmer temperatures, organizers urged people to think about how the local environment is impacted.

“If every Canadian did a small thing like plant trees as we are today, it’s going to mount to something very major,” Cullen said.

Click here to learn more about clean-up events in Toronto.

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