'Keep the Earth fresh': Young eco-warriors clean up litter on Calgary's Bow River

University of Calgary student Angelina Hajji has organized a small but mighty group to clean Calgary's river edge every week. (Axel Tardieu/CBC - image credit)
University of Calgary student Angelina Hajji has organized a small but mighty group to clean Calgary's river edge every week. (Axel Tardieu/CBC - image credit)

A group of volunteers is taking litter into their own hands by cleaning up trash around Calgary's Peace Bridge as well as other popular river edges each week.

It all started with Angelina Hajji, a third year student at University of Calgary, who noticed an increase of pollution, like face masks and gloves, around her neighborhood in February.

"I decided it was time that someone made a change in this city. I did it by myself every single day, picking up things," she said.

She then decided to invite some friends along, and together it grew into a small group of 10 meeting every Friday.

Axel Tardieu/CBC
Axel Tardieu/CBC

"We ended up calling it 'Keep the Earth fresh' and we started making it a green initiative that we're going to clean up the city and keep it clean."

And their mission is growing. Hajji says through Instagram, new people are constantly coming through.

"We go along the river, we pick a zone and we go every Friday at 6 p.m. until the sun is going down," she said.

So far, the mighty team has picked up around 50 to 100 bags of garbage — a lot of which is plastic that doesn't break down in the environment.

"Styrofoam plastics, anything like that, it breaks down into polymers … and those are really hard to remove from the ecosystems."

And while the team leaves a spot feeling accomplished, it gets hard when it becomes riddled with garbage a few weeks later.

"All that tells us is that when we weren't here to be removing that garbage, it's just been entering the river. And this river leads down through Saskatchewan, and then it leads further through into the Hudson's Bay, which means it's just polluting our oceans again and again."

Volunteers ask city to step up

Due to the repetitive amount of garbage, Hajji thinks the city should do more to keep its rivers clean.

"Knowing what I've seen outside of the sewage outputs right now, how much dirt and litter … I could only imagine how much was going into the river," she said.

According to an emailed statement by the City of Calgary, waste management and maintenance is provided for parks, green spaces and natural areas; however they say they haven't received any citizen requests indicating an issue with litter around the Peace Bridge.

"Litter pick up and garbage replacement is scheduled daily in this area and sometimes occurs multiple times a day," read the email.

Axel Tardieu/CBC
Axel Tardieu/CBC

"If a citizen has concerns with litter in this, or any other area, we encourage them to contact 311 so we can look into their concern."

The city also added that they encourage all citizens to act as stewards of the city and help keep green spaces and are pleased to hear about the group's initiative.

As well, that citizens can volunteer through their annual Pathway and River Cleanup event, Adopt-a-Park program and by using our The Litter Cleanup (TLC) kits.

Plans to grow

The team hopes to keep their initiative growing, possibly throughout the city instead of just the rivers edge.

"If we don't prioritize the environment every single day, 24/7, then we are not going to accomplish any solutions and we are going to keep driving the Earth until this systems collapses."

She believes there's room for improving education on littering in Calgary.

Axel Tardieu/CBC
Axel Tardieu/CBC

"Where is your garbage going? What is happening to your society? What happens when you throw one mask? she said.

"I think we just have to re-establish a new narrative where we are going to take the change into our hands."

Hajji says the next step for the group is to develop a website about Calgary's ecosystem, and how together we can further impact our global systems.

And if you want to learn more about their initiative, you can find more details by following the Instagram hashtag, #keeptheearthfresh.