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Roll up the rim to sin
Coffee cup crusader collects more than 2,000 cups found littered throughout city

Cody Punter
Northern News Services
Published Saturday, August 24, 2013

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE
Helene Usherwood is a diminutive, unassuming 61-year-old woman who loves spending her time outdoors.

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Helene Usherwood has collected more than 2,000 coffee cups she has found littered around Yellowknife over the past two years. Usherwood is hoping to use the cups to raise awareness about the widespread problem of littering in Yellowknife. - Cody Punter/NNSL photo

She is also a woman with her fair share of enemies.

Usherwood, who cites her enemies as "plastic, stryrofoam and non-recyclable cups," has spent the last two summers waging a war on litter in the streets of Yellowknife.

Usherwood's campaign began last summer while walking her dog just outside of town.

"I was collecting recyclables and then I noticed the ungodly number of cups that people throw out their windows," said Usherwood.

"It gets me so angry. There's no reason in the world to throw your garbage out the window. There's no justification when we live in such a beautiful, beautiful place. It's the last frontier," said Usherwood.

In order to raise awareness of the amount of littering that goes on in the city, Usherwood has been collecting coffee cups others have tossed on the side of the road. She has collected more than 2,000 cups.

Usherwood says she picks up garbage whenever she sees it, but specifically goes collecting cups at least twice a week with her Basset-hound, Buster.

"I get to be with my dog, be out in the good air and enjoy the quiet. Just to be outside I enjoy it immensely," she said.

"I know it sounds odd, but I really really enjoy it. It keeps things clean, I get good exercise and it just has lots of benefits."

A collection of cups she found at the graveyard disconcerted her most.

"How disrespectful is that?" she asked.

The most common offender? Tim Hortons coffee cups, in particular ones with their rims rolled up as part of the company's Roll up the Rim to Win campaign.

Tim Hortons did not return calls for comment by press time.

She added that she has recently noticed a growing number of McDonald's cups on the ground.

"They're coming now to be a close second," said Usherwood.

Usherwood couldn't come up with an explanation as to why Tim Hortons cups are more prevalent. However, she is pleading with customers to stop using the cardboard cups and, instead, bring their own mugs or thermoses when getting coffee.

Usherwood also said bylaw officers don't hand out enough tickets to people who litter.

"It's not as sexy as stopping a car, but it's a real necessity to scare the crap out of people about littering," said Usherwood.

"Fine them. It is against the law," said Usherwood.

According to Dennis Marchiori, director of public safety, the city handed out a total of 20 littering fines in 2012 and 26 in 2011.

He said the difficulty with fining litterers is that they must be caught in the act in ordered to be fined.

Marchiori pointed out that the city currently has more than 280 garbage cans, situated through the city's streets, parks and trail systems.

He also said the city has been making an effort to implement public awareness programs to deal with littering but they are facing an uphill battle.

"The one thing we can't do is change people's attitudes," said Marchiori.

Usherwood commended the city for organizing its annual spring cleanup. She also applauded the city for its new initiative, in which city employees hand out gift certificates for residents who are seen picking up litter in the city.

So far Usherwood has accumulated four gift certificates.

Usherwood is still trying to decide what to do with the more than 2,000 cups she has collected. She says she hopes to use them as part of a campaign to raise awareness about littering said she would somehow like to involve students from Yellowknife's schools in the process.

"Children are wonderful. They believe 100 per cent in the environment and what they are doing at school," said Usherwood.

"Kids will nag their parents and say 'mom and dad, don't throw those things out.'"

With school starting up soon, Usherwood plans to get in touch with teachers and principals to discuss ways of using the cups to raise awareness.

Usherwood welcomes suggestions from artists or anyone else who might have an idea of what to with the cups and she is asking that anyone who hears about her story to get in touch with her.

In the meantime, Usherwood said she has no plans of stopping her crusade anytime soon.

"I'm going to live to be 85 and I'm going to keep picking up garbage. I just enjoy it."

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