'It's like a treasure hunt': Meet the Chatham, Ont. woman who's keeping plastic out of the local river

·2 min read
Sally Joyce of Chatham, Ont. is organizing the Spring Sydenham Paddle & Clean. It's the second time she's organized a public cleanup event for her local river. (Supplied by Sally Joyce - image credit)
Sally Joyce of Chatham, Ont. is organizing the Spring Sydenham Paddle & Clean. It's the second time she's organized a public cleanup event for her local river. (Supplied by Sally Joyce - image credit)

It's been called one of southwestern Ontario's best-kept secrets when it comes to recreational tourism.

That's why one Chatham woman has been spending a lot of time kayaking the Sydenham River, picking up as much trash as she can.

"I've been a caring person about the environment since I could walk," Joyce told CBC Radio's Afternoon Drive.

"It's always been something that I care about. Wherever I go, I like to leave it in a better condition than I found it."

Since moving back to her hometown in 2018, Joyce says she's taken at least thirty trips through the river, which runs through Wallaceburg in Chatham-Kent.

She's become so accustomed to filling her kayak with as much garbage as she can carry that she sometimes has to tell herself to stop.

"There are very few times I'll just kayak because it's just kind of who I am," Joyce says. "But there's the odd time I'll have to tell myself 'nope, no garbage today. Just enjoy yourself!'"

Bottles, bags, fishing line

Joyce says she's seen all kinds of garbage floating in the river, from full garbage bags that have likely been dumped intentionally, to bits of discarded fishing line that she worries are harmful to the river's wildlife.

But single-use plastic drink containers, like water and pop bottles, are, by far, the largest culprit, she says.

"The majority is the single-use beverage bottles, and a lot of glass and cans, as well. A lot of Styrofoam probably blows out of people's yards or garbage disposal. And wow...clothing. Footwear. It's kind of like treasure hunting," she laughs.

A few of the the participants in a previous Sydenham River cleanup event, organized by Sally Joyce last fall.
A few of the the participants in a previous Sydenham River cleanup event, organized by Sally Joyce last fall.(Supplied by Sally Joyce)

Joyce is calling on like-minded kayakers and paddlers to join her on her trashy treasure hunt for the Spring Sydenham Paddle and Clean on May 29. It's the second time she's organized a public cleanup event on the Sydenham River.

She adds that those without watercraft are welcome to walk along the shorelines and pick up the litter along the river's edge.

'600 pounds of trash'

Joyce was pleased with the turnout at last year's event, and its results.

"When we did the cleanup last fall, we actually weighed it. We had 600 pounds of trash just from those few hours that day. So even if they only have an hour to put in, that's great."

"(There's no) registration, no administration or bureaucracy. Just come and help out. Have fun."

The Spring Sydenham Paddle & Clean is on Saturday, May 29, starting at the municipal boat launch at the corner of Wallace and Huron streets in Wallaceburg. For details, visit the event page on Facebook.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting