To Catch a Litterbug: It’s a bike basket, not a garbage can

photo by Elah Feder

To Catch a Litterbug

A Public Service Announcement:  It’s a bike basket, not a garbage can!

by Elah Feder

“So what can we conclude about our perp?” I asked my friend Jessica last Tuesday afternoon. We were peering into her bike basket, examining a pile of pistachio shells she’d found there the day before, and trying to figure out who might be responsible. “Can we tell how tall this person is? Calculate the angle from which the shells were thrown?”

Forensics text books will tell you a lot about blood streaks and maggots, but on the subject of pistachio shell scatterings they offer little guidance, leaving Jessica and I fumbling with our clues.

“I think it’s safe to say this person likes pistachios and probably rides the bus,” Jessica said. I wrote this down, unsure if we were much farther along.

Jessica is just one of this city’s countless daily victims of bike basket littering. Local cyclists report finding everything from shoe insoles to old books, empty bottles, greasy wrappers and other food related waste seem to be most common. In general, it is not pleasant and not at all appreciated.

“It’s people being lazy. They’re making their problem of having to throw something away, into my problem,” said Timothy Comeau, who’s gotten pretty frustrated with the coffee cups and other scraps of garbage he keeps finding in his rear-mounted milk crate. “I just find it really insulting.”

“Maybe we should look at motive,” I suggested to Jessica. We came up with three major possibilities.

Motive A: Jerkiness

Tensions between cyclists, drivers and pedestrians in our city can be high at times. Could our culprit have an anti-cycling agenda? An anti-basket agenda? Mantra for survival: They walk among us.

Motive B: Confusion

Though conscientious about littering, our suspect in this case is confused about what is and is not a garbage can. The city simply doesn't have enough garbage and recycling bins in some locations.

Motive C: Laziness

It’s not always easy to find a garbage bin, and some of ours are tough little nuts to crack, unflappable in the face of even the most vigorous pedal pushing. So it makes sense that people would take shortcuts. What’s curious is that they’d find it easier to throw stuff in a basket than on the sidewalk. Are they averse to littering on some level? Do they think that if it’s not touching the ground it doesn't count? (Note: If so, they’d be right! Garbage tossed in bike baskets or cars doesn’t fit our city by-law’s definition of littering, according to an email I received from a local waste enforcement representative. You can get fined up to $300 for 'real' littering though.)

Having reviewed the evidence, I was leaning towards the third hypothesis; laziness, but this didn't much narrow the field of suspects. If I wanted answers, I’d need to catch the culprit in the act. It was time for phase two of the investigation: bait bike.

The concept: Park a bike in a high traffic area, watch, and wait. Turns out, the 'bait bike' didn't work. But here's a snapshot of everyday garbage-in-basket finds.

Is bike basket litter a real problem?

College Street. photo by Amanda Beattie

Mentos. Photo by Elah Feder

Energy drink. photo by Elah Feder

Garbage basket bike on College. Photo by Amanda Beattie

ED's note: I found garbage in my basket today after work, before I came home to post this dandyBLOG. It was a crumpled up prescription bag that has a name, address and phone number on it. The prescription was for Clonazepam and the guy lives on Gerrard Street. Photo by Tammy Thorne.


Elah Feder is a freelance writer and radio producer. She sometimes writes for the Huffington Post about environmentalism.

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