Cleaning Up Canada’s Highways, One Bottle at a Time

andy-sward

Andy Sward is currently running across Canada as part of a project named the Million Bottle Pledge. Andy has spent his summers since 2013 cleaning up garbage along the country’s highways. CCNL caught up with Andy as he made his way across Newfoundland from Cape Spear to Corner Brook.

Have you ever noticed litter as you walked, drove, or biked along roads in your community? Or while travelling along the highway? Andy Sward did, and he was inspired to make his way across Canada on foot and clean up the roads on his journey.

Andy is currently making his way across the island of Newfoundland this August as part of his fourth cross-Canada run.  We caught up with Andy outside of Grand Falls-Windsor as he made his way along the Trans-Canada Highway.

Andy started his cross-Canada cleanup journey in 2013, after realizing how much waste was being created at the restaurant he managed. “In the restaurant industry, I saw a lot of waste. Back in 2010, 2011, 2012, they weren’t even recycling properly, let alone composting. Just the amount of waste we would go through every week, and then multiply that by thousands of restaurants across the country,” Andy said. 

“It hit home when we had a wine taster from California come up from one of the restaurants I was managing and he said he was shocked and disappointed by how far behind Canada is when it comes to recycling and composting and whatnot. For someone from the United States to come up and say that, it kind of ruffled my feathers,” Andy explained. 

Andy became more aware of the waste in the restaurant, as well as the garbage he was seeing every day. “Right off the bat, the litter on the side of the road bothered me. So, if it bothers you, do something about it. I started to get what I could- just bottles and cans at first. And then, I started on garbage and then pretty much anything I could carry.”

Andy uses a running stroller to store the garbage he collects. He runs on one side of the highway and, on his next trip, collects garbage on the other side. While COVID-19 delayed his plans, Andy focused on local highways in B.C. in the spring before heading to Newfoundland and Labrador to start his fourth cross-country run.

One of Andy’s favourite memories from his runs all over the country is an example of the province’s well-known hospitality. “My very first trip, it took over two years[…] I was running across Newfoundland, West to East, in October of 2019. The weather, of course, was starting to turn bad,” Andy said. “I had a night at the Notre Dame Visitor Centre where I pitched my tent with the tarp. In the middle of the night, the wind switched directions and ripped the tarp off.  I had pouring rain in my tent, it was a mess. So I got up early and it was a long and difficult day into Gander […] A gentleman from Appleton, who saw me earlier in the day offered to get me a hotel room. I said, no, that’s too kind, that’s too much to offer. He had met me earlier and knew about my journey cleaning up the roads and he said, I think what you are doing is a good deed and I want to do a good deed by helping you out, so for you to turn down the offer is not such a good thing. So that really taught me about accepting what Canadians have to offer.”

As he continues his run across Canada, Andy wants to increase his engagement with the communities he travels through. “I encourage anyone who wants to, not necessarily join me on the highway, but maybe have a cleanup at the park or the school with the kids and collectively clean up the town that day,” he said.

You can follow Andy on his journey by visiting his Facebook page, Million Dollar Pledge.

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