Canada: How Do They Keep It So Clean?

Banff Canada national park

I was born in the United States and have lived here all my life. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest in a family that enjoyed road trips and camping. Thus, it is no surprise that I've been to Canada several times. Many trips with my family centered on British Columbia. Some of the longer journeys involved traveling East through Alberta. As an adult, I added a couple of trips to Ontario to the list.

I've always enjoyed spending time in Canada. But I have to admit there's one thing about it I've never been able to figure out. How do they keep it so clean? Traveling in the U.S. means seeing lots of litter on the side of almost every road. This was a rare sight in Canada. How do they do it?

The first thing I'll point out is that I'm not comparing the Canadian wilderness to a huge American city. That wouldn't be fair. I'm thinking more like Portland or Seattle vs. Vancouver or Detroit vs. Toronto. The difference is striking. I didn't see the piles of trash alongside Canadian roads. I once visited Toronto during a sanitation strike, and it was still cleaner than American cities!

One possibility would be that Canada invests far more money in cleanup than we do in America. While I cannot rule this out, I am skeptical. I never saw anyone picking up roadside trash in Canada. I see crews doing that at least a few times a month in Mississippi. I suspect the difference is the littering rather than the cleanup.

In fairness, there are large regional differences in the States. I saw roadside trash in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Colorado, and New Mexico. But nothing prepared me for how much worse it would be in the South. Mississippians seem to view nature as their personal garbage can. It is not unusual to see people throw large fast food bags out their car windows while driving around town. It is rare that I get through a week of commuting without seeing someone toss a cigarette butt out the window. Litter is everywhere.

There might be differences in enforcement. I see signs here asking people not to litter. Some other states post the dollar amount of the fines. I knew people who got tickets for littering in other states. I haven't heard of that here, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. But it can't be all about enforcement, can it?

Many people in the Pacific Northwest seemed to take pride in the beauty of the region. I'm not claiming they were all nature lovers, but I'd say that most frowned on littering. I don't see any hint of that here. That's one of many cultural differences between regions.

Look at this road! See how beautiful this part of the country is. That's some real American beauty, right there. Greatest country in the world, right? Hey, let's throw our garbage out the window so the next driver can enjoy it. I love this road so much that I'd like to see my garbage alongside it.

As for Canada, I'll go out on a limb and offer my theory. Differences in cleanup or enforcement could be relevant, but I'll point elsewhere. I suspect the main difference is cultural. Canadians seem to take pride in their country. For them, one part of that pride appears to be not treating it like their own landfill.

In the United States, we hear a great deal about national pride. American exceptionalism is a frequent theme, one that is often intertwined with Christianity. It would be great if more of this pride was evident in how we treated our environment.

I don't know about you, but I've never looked at a scenic road and wished there was more trash along the side of it. Instead of claiming to be so proud of our country, how about we act like it?

Image by David Mark from Pixabay