When sisters Jennifer and Kim Taylor took photos of the litter near the Don River, they had no idea it would end up taking them on the trip of a lifetime.
The sisters, who grew up in East York, took the pictures as part of the Litter Less photography competition, which urged teens and youth to take photos of litter in their communities and provide creative solutions.
“We always take our dog out in the Don Valley and we’ve seen the litter out there,” Jennifer said.
When the Taylors were selected as two of four Canadian winners, they were treated to a trip to Copenhagen, Denmark to take part in an international mission to explore the concepts behind one of the world’s most sustainable cities.
“When we entered the competition, I didn’t even know about the Copenhagen trip,” said Kim, who attends St. Joseph’s College School in downtown Toronto. “I thought ‘is this a hoax?’”
While overseas, the sisters joined students from Germany, France, Romania and Montenegro in attending workshops, learning and making presentations on environmental issues.
For the Taylors, the trip kindled their passion for green living. Already environmentally conscious – both have been avid members of St. Joseph’s environmental club – they were amazed to see how much more sustainable cities can be.
“The first thing we saw when we were flying in was windmills in the water,” Kim said, pointing to Copenhagen’s heavy reliance on wind power.
Jennifer pointed to Copenhagen’s healthy cycling culture, which sees 36 per cent of the city’s population using bikes as a regular mode of transportation. Both Taylor sisters are much the same, with Kim biking to and from school and Jennifer cycling throughout Kingston, where she is studying mining at Queen’s University.
“They say there are more bikes than people in the city,” Jennifer said. “That’s something I’d like to see here, but Toronto’s really lacking the road system you need for bikes.”
Another green initiative in Copenhagen that caught their eye was the addition of footprints on the ground leading to waste receptacles. Studies have shown people were less likely to litter when they are literally guided to trash bins.
They were also shown a mock-up of a sewage system that shed light on the issue of people accidentally or carelessly flushing waste down the toilet, given a small amount of money and challenged to create the most sustainable meal possible at a grocery store and treated to more recreational activities such as visits to Tivoli Gardens and time spent on Copenhagen’s scenic waterfront.
“In Copenhagen, you could actually swim in the harbour, but in Toronto, you don’t really want to,” Jennifer said.
In working alongside students and teachers from other countries, the Taylors also gained additional insight into how environmental issues are perceived around the world, which reinforced the notion that concerns over the environment are truly a global issue.
The Taylor sisters noted that, as much as Canadians may think they are living environmentally friendly lifestyles, there is always more that can be done.
“People might think they’re not making a difference, but every little thing does help,” Jennifer said.
In winning the competition, Kim was also awarded $500 for her school’s environmental club and already has an idea how she might want to spend it.
“I’m thinking I’d like to use the money to create a sustainable eco-system in an aquarium,” she said.
The Litter Less competition was run in Canada by advocacy group Environmental Defence as part of the Canada’s Next Green Journalist contest (http://environmentaldefence.ca/issues/canadas-next-green-journalist). The organization is looking for participants for the next cycle of the competition, with youth encouraged to submit photos, articles or videos.