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Picking up masks can bring all Albertans together

Organizer urges everyone to support the grassroots campaign, and reduce mask pollution

A grassroots cleanup campaign is urging Albertans to face the dirty truth - a mask on the ground is a clear-cut no-no.

"Even if you are pro-mask or anti-mask. We can all agree that pollution is not cool," said Candice Anderson, co-founder of Community Mask Clean Up, a small group aiming to rid the province of discarded face coverings.

"Mental health is so important and picking up these masks can be the common thread that bonds us together during COVID," said the Vermilion mom and business co-owner who joined forces with her sister, Alyssa Kusalik, of Lethbridge, last month.

While Kusalik and several family members held a local impromptu cleanup in mid-March, the group’s profile lifted off when Anderson created a Facebook event page for the group’s first designated cleanup day on March 28, leading to simultaneous cleanups at several centres across the province.

In Vermilion, a town of 5,000 about 194 km east of Edmonton, Anderson and nine other volunteers picked up 320 masks.

"We also picked up 12 bags of garbage in total," said Anderson, adding, "In Mannville, they picked up 60 masks and eight more bags of garbage."

In Lethbridge, Kusalik, her family and a team of volunteers collected a total of 1,965 masks.

The same day, small groups organized in Pincher Creek, Bonnyville, Leduc, Medicine Hat and Calgary.

Anderson said all volunteers in the centres were equipped with poking sticks, tongs or just gloves. She said, "For Vermilion and Mannville I supplied gloves and bags to all who wanted to participate."

This writer and his wife, Linda, unknowingly became part of the campaign as we picked up 41 masks and two bags of garbage during a 30-minute cleaning spree in the Woodbridge neighbourhood of Sherwood Park on March 28.

"I was shocked at the number of discarded masks in our community. It's disgusting,” said Linda, who regularly finds masks littered in her neighbourhood.

When asked why she believes there are so many discarded masks, Anderson cites three reasons.

"One is negligence. Two, the wind blows them away - that can happen easily - and number three is defiance," she said.

A City of Edmonton official said mask littering is not a big issue there and that no PPE-related tickets have been issued since the pandemic began in March, 2020. The City ran an anti-littering advertisement and social media campaign in the fall, and it plans to run it again in the next month of so.

In Strathcona County - where Sherwood Park is located - a spokesman said the municipality hasn't identified an issue with mask litter. However, cleaning up litter, which includes discarded masks, is part of ongoing programs at the County.

While Anderson is looking for the campaign to continue to grow, she is disappointed a provincial government website promoting proper mask usage appears to be hindering their effort.

At the bottom of an AHS provincial website on mask usage, the instruction has the words ‘What not do with your mask’ situated 12 lines above a line that states: “Discard your mask in public by discarding it on the sidewalk."

Anderson said she has seen several posts on the group's Facebook page where people are misunderstanding the directive. "I've tried to correct people," she said.

Great West Media contacted AHS for comment about the site, but did not get a response.

The next scheduled mask cleanup event is set for April 18, in Leduc.

She said, "We want to make this Alberta-wide. We know it's a big issue."

Contact the group at [email protected]

Gary Poignant is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Great West Newspapers. This story was funded by the Google News Initiative.