Worst of the worst: a naturalist’s list of the most harmful types of litter

Today Yvette Bree, a Discovery Leader at Sandbanks Provincial Park for over 30 years, shares some thoughts about this season. 

I am pretty lucky: I live in a great country, a great province, and have enjoyed a career in a stunningly beautiful park.

Usually my job is to inspire visitors to appreciate the natural world around them, to breathe life into history, and to encourage stewardship so they will respect not only this park, but take these ideals home with them.

beach area

However in an extremely busy park, many of us have been asked to assist with some of the basic operations required to ensure the smooth operation of the park.

Too much trash

Although I still have the opportunity to inspire visitors, some of my time has been dedicated to other tasks.

trash in day useI wrote this blog in my head, amusing myself as I picked up litter on Dunes Beach at Sandbanks.

Except I wasn’t amused.

Sure, with thousands of visitors coming to Sandbanks on a daily basis, some litter is to be expected — food wrappings unexpectedly caught in the wind, a towel forgotten on the beach, a beach toy unknowingly dropped from an armful of belongings as you head back to the car.

But there’s a very sad and very large amount of garbage left behind after a busy day at the beach, too much to have all been “accidental.”

I came up with my own personal “worst of the worst” types of litter.

Here are my top three:

Third place: everything plastic, particularly items that have only been used once

plastic buckets and shovels discarded on the beachThis includes water bottles and take-out cups and containers, but I’ve been shocked at the number of items that could and should be used more than once, but have instead been carelessly discarded.

I’m sure discount stores are happy to get the repeat business, but when did children’s sandcastle pails and shovels become a “one and done” purchase?

Second place: cigarette butts

Small but conspicuous and very “fiddly” to pick up, they seem to be everywhere. I must have picked up hundreds in one day, very aware that they’ve been in someone else’s mouth.

Cigarette on the beach

They’re also full of dangerous chemicals, including nicotine, hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde, lead, arsenic, ammonia, uranium, benzene, acetone and butane, to name just a few.

These poisonous chemicals can leach into the soils and be ingested by animals, even sometimes by children.

Smoking is not permitted on the beach; please dispose of all cigarette butts properly.

Top spot: diapers (and not just for the obvious reason)

diaper lying on beachThese diapers are being thrown into the bushes by adults, setting a poor example of respecting the environment around them to the children they’re raising.

These children will grow up and repeat the behaviours they learned when they were young, meaning we’ll still be picking up far too much litter twenty years from now.

You might have your own top three, but you get the idea.


Let’s show some respect for each other, park staff working hard to maintain our parks, and the beautiful landscapes around us.

It’s time to break the cycle.