“One day, I was browsing Reddit and I saw a lot of posts that were tagged #TrashTag; it was a picture of before and after of a trash cleanup,” said Lucas Hygate. “I saw that and was like ‘hey, I can do that.’ Then I thought I’ll do it way bigger and now it’s TrashTalk.”
Hygate, a 21-year-old philosophy student at Concordia, began TrashTalk Montreal, or TrashTalk for short, earlier this year. The idea started in February and has massively evolved from the stages that began in Hygate’s basement.
“Now, we’ve grown and evolved into a much larger, official organization that really tries to cater towards hosting these cleanups and inviting people to an event that is really something that we do, rather than just for helping the earth, the motivation is really to try to have some fun with it,” said Hygate.
The project came into fruition in April after floods devastated many communities in the West Island. Hygate recalls the intersection of Pierrefonds and Saint-John Boulevards was so flooded that it resembled a lake more than a street.
The organization is a non-profit that aims to pick up trash in public areas that’s been discarded and collecting for years – but why call it TrashTalk?
“One night I was telling my friend Sam about this idea, he was driving me home,” said Hygate. “Suddenly, he looks at me and goes ‘Lucas! I have the perfect name for you: TrashTalk’ and then it was TrashTalk.”
“We want to make sure it’s not just superficial talk, we actually want to turn that talk into action,” said Kayleigh Tooke. Tooke is the VP of communications for the Concordia club of the same name that was started on Oct. 7 to facilitate the non-profit’s activities, according to Hygate. She also works with the nonprofit by trying to connect to people to get involved with the organization. Also members of the nonprofit are Malcolm Adamson, Nicholas Tsibanolis and Nicolas Vyncke.
“Half of the name is Talk: more than just cleaning it up, it’s preventing it for the future,” said Angad Malhotra, a computer engineering student at Concordia. Malhotra is one of TrashTalk’s members, taking care of the visual design and marketing aspect. He and Hygate know each other from John Abbott College, where Concordia has a sister club, but it wasn’t until TrashTalk that the two became closer.
“I didn’t talk to Angad three years prior but I still had his number in my phone,” said Hygate with a laugh. “We don’t remember why. And now we’re friends.”
Diego Rivera, the VP External in charge of event planning for TrashTalk Concordia, is also a philosophy student, which is how he met Hygate and decided to join the club. He spent time in Cambodia over the summer and heard about Tijmen Sissing, the Trashpacker who backpacked across Asia picking up trash.
“Out of that, I really wanted to start some kind of movement that, when I met Lucas, I was like ‘holy shit, this is perfect’,” said Rivera.
On the note of international trash cleanup, 18-year-old Joseph Poulin, who recently joined the club after meeting Tooke, was also inspired. During his trip to Kigali, Rwanda over the summer, townspeople would congregate every week or so and clean the community. Not only has the movement inspired him to join TrashTalk to pick up trash, it has also inspired him and those around him to create less trash.
Native to a small town near Quebec City, Poulin’s family owns a sugar shack. “We started a garden right next to it so that reduces our amount of trash,” said Poulin. “Instead of going to the grocery store and buying packages, we produce our own stuff, like fruits and vegetables.”
“On the first cleanup, it was me and my friend Nick,” said Hygate. “We were going out and we went to this place right next to this very popular commercial area. We looked at it and we started picking up. We cleaned for a solid half an hour or so, not too long, and we found a $10 bill – our first piece of good karma came out of the very first cleanup.”
Since its founding, TrashTalk has conducted approximately 15 cleanups in various areas throughout the West Island. Each cleanup takes approximately four to six hours and can yield massive amounts of trash. To plan a cleanup, they usually scout a few areas that potentially have lots of trash, choose one, then tell city councillors they plan on conducting a cleanup. They’re well supported by the community in this respect: most of the cleanups attract local politicians, city district members, large groups of volunteers.
One of the places that they’ve worked on is Angell Woods in Beaconsfield. Their most successful cleanup at this location resulted in 1,275 pounds of trash collected – in a space no larger than a couple of hundred square feet. After the trash is picked up and sorted and divided, it’s usually brought to the edge of the location and sectioned off until city workers pick it up and properly dispose of the various types of trash. The boroughs also often offer gloves and garbage bags to facilitate cleanups which, as Hygate explains, is already a solid blueprint for successful trash removal.
“At all of our cleanups, we’re able to find some very interesting things,” said Hygate. With the interesting trash they find – tractor parts, decomposing cars and 50-year-old 7-Up cans with branding that no one recognizes anymore – they plan to create art pieces such as sculptures. The aim is giving passerbys an incentive to keep the space clean and to not litter in the first place.
“There’s a lot of layers that add up to why TrashTalk is a fun thing to do and a purposeful thing to do as well,” explained Hygate. “People need the opportunity to come out and engage with the environment in a whole, very productive manner where the impact is direct and you see it right in front of you. When you’re done a trash cleanup, what will happen is you’re going to turn around and the place you’ve just been slaving at for three or four hours, and you took out a thousand pounds with another 20 people, you look back and that place really does look cleaner and it really does have a great difference to it.”
For more information about TrashTalk, how you can participate or to donate, visit https://trashtalkmontreal.org/about/.
Feature photo by Laurence B.D.