Community action against illegal dumping
Jean-Raphaël Poiré and his father Marcel Poiré started PurNat with one mission in mind: to protect the planet from illegal dumping. After seeing the environmental destruction caused by illegal dumping in Canada, the pair dedicated their time to increasing community awareness of the issue and mobilizing volunteers to join them in cleanups. The team hopes to continue propelling their mission on a global scale, as illegal dumping is a worldwide problem. In this Q&A, Jean-Raphaël Poiré shares the story behind PurNat, the impact of illegal dumping and what brings the team hope for the future.
Mountain bike and hiking enthusiast, Marcel Poiré was constantly confronted by scenes of neglect and failure to respect the environment. In each of his outings in the forest, he picked up bottles and cans on his way. Despite his efforts, he quickly realized that he could not pick up all the trash by himself if the illegal dumping continued.
He’d find automobile tires, oil containers, scrap metal of all kinds, household trash and big items like cars. So, he started researching to identify organizations that could come clean up these polluted sites.
In the absence of resources, he decided to work with his son Jean-Raphaël Poiré to create a nonprofit organization. After several months of research and consultation, PurNat Canada was founded in July 2013.
Q&A with Jean-Raphaël Poiré:
Jean-Raphaël Poiré and Marcel Poiré
What are the main challenges that PurNat faces at the moment?
The year 2020 was one of a kind for all of us. It definitely affected PurNat in many ways. We lost 98% of our clean ups because the government shut down all businesses and municipalities. Since we work directly with municipalities, cities and governments, it was very difficult to get contact and plan cleanups with them. Because of the increased dumping this year, cities are stuck with a million pound problem.
How are different communities impacted by illegal dumping?
There are many different ways communities are impacted by illegal dumping. First of all, it is a public health hazard. All illegal dumping is an imminent danger for the population. One of the biggest risks that illegal dumping can pose is the disease it can cause to humans.
Illegal dumping or littering poses a threat to public health by attracting unwanted visitors. These sites can be a breeding ground for animals and insects carrying dangerous diseases, including dengue fever, yellow fever, encephalitis and malaria.
The impact on wildlife
Animals are not immune to the impact of the illegal dumping of waste. In fact, they tend to feel the impact first. Small creatures can get sick after eating garbage or potentially tangled in debris, making them easy targets for predators. If the runoff or the garbage itself reaches a source of water, fish may be depleted of oxygen or ingest the waste particles.
Waste also tends to attract wildlife which may not be not originally from this particular region. From mosquitoes to raccoons, this can lead to the appearance of new diseases and predators in the region, disrupting the natural flow of the ecosystem.
The environmental impact
When a massive amount of waste is in the same place, there is a risk to nearby soil and water. Unlike facilities which aim to protect the surrounding area from contaminants, illegal landfills do not have integrated systems and constant monitoring of environmental safety.
The financial impact
Illegal dumping in North America has been a problem for several years. Thousands and thousands of tonnes of illegal waste is dumped every year. Cities are spending millions of dollars to clean up illegal landfills –illegal dumping costs the city of Los Angeles about $12 million a year.
How do you draw people into a movement focused on garbage and waste while fostering excitement and dedication for climate action?
People are connected to nature. We give everyone the opportunity to contribute to a cleaner tomorrow, through opportunities like festive cleanup events for businesses. Seeing a site affected by tons of waste clean after hours of hard work is fun and rewarding. Our volunteers always ask us when our next event is because they love it so much.
With seemingly endless work ahead of PurNat, what gives you hope?
We have pulled together 14,000,000 pounds of waste so far in just a few years. Winters in Canada are slowing our progress by half, but rest assured that we are looking to triple (or more) these numbers in the upcoming years. We work closely with municipalities and governments affected by this widespread phenomenon and they understand the importance of acting now. To be honest, that gives me hope– when we started PurNat, that wasn’t the case at all.
All photos by PurNat.