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HELPERS: Bradford man really 'can' make a difference collecting trash along rural roads

Almost every day you can spot Bradford resident Albert Wierenga walking along the rural roads of Bradford, picking up trash and collecting cans for a good cause
Albert Wierenga has been picking up trash along the area roadways for years, donating money from beer cans to War Amps

Bradford resident Albert Wierenga has been walking the town's rural roads, cleaning up trash along ditches and culverts since 2013.

He walks almost daily, anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes at a time.

In 2012, Wierenga suffered a brain injury brought on by Dengue Shock Syndrome. As a result, he suffered major paralysis with a long recovery period. 

To help with his recovery and rehabilitation, he started to walk. 

It was on these walks that he started to notice the large amounts of the garbage along the roadsides and ditches. He then began bringing bags and gloves to pick up whatever he could. 

Over the years, he has seen everything from coffee cups to dirty diapers. Most garbage has little value, but the beer cans and alcohol containers do have value, he says.  He collects 10 cents on their return at the Beer Store. He then donates that amount to War Amps.   

Years ago, in 1971,  Wierenga worked at an addiction and rehab facility in Toronto as part of a co-op placement and spent a night with War Amps Kids and children who had lost their limbs either at birth or through accident. 

"As a Physical Education student, that hit me hard," he said. "These kids have to adjust and make their life the best they can. War Amps is a worthwhile organization."

Since 2018, Wierenga has collected more than 23,000 alcohol containers on his walks. 

Just this year alone, he has collected around $800 in beer cans.

Last year, he collected a total of 9000 beer cans, which garnered $900 in return fees. 

"Putting something into an organization to do good, why not?" he said. 

Along his walks, he also finds a lot of discarded coffee cups.  The McDonald's coffee cups have collectible stickers on the side to earn free coffee. Once he fills a card full of seven with the required stickers, he piles them up and donates them to the local food bank. Last year, he collected 48 full cards, and this year, he already has 34. 

Wierenga recently acquired a cell phone which he now takes out on all his walks, and has become another set of eyes for the town's maintenance department, notifying them of any illegal dumping or road disrepairs. 

"Strange things that one finds," noted Wierenga.

From fully sealed bottles of Brandy to soccer balls and spades, Wierenga has seen it all.

When the pandemic hit, he said he noticed a slight decrease in the amount of garbage along the roads. 

"But it didn't last long," he said. 

While all the trash he finds in ditches and berms is upsetting, it's the alcohol containers and beer cans he finds the most worrisome, leading him to believe there are still too many out there who are drinking while driving. 

Wierenga has zero-tolerance for those who choose to drink and get behind the wheel. 

Forty-two years ago, his soon-to-be sister-in-law, Susan Wright, a Bradford District High School secretary, was killed by a drunk driver. 

The accident happened on Good Friday, a week before she was to marry his brother. 

Wierenga enjoys his walking rituals no matter what the weather. His favourite time of year to walk is in the winter when it's quiet and there is less traffic. 

"I love being outside, doesn't matter the weather, outside is good and there's always stuff (to pick up), and things to see" he said. 

Wierenga is an advocate for the environment and loves observing nature. Just the other week, he spotted a woodpecker's hole in a tree and anticipates the wren babies will be peeping in the springtime.

He hopes to inspire other residents to not just pick up trash in their neighborhood, but to have people think twice before dumping anywhere. 

"Only a very small percentage of people are very careless and selfish, but unfortunately they leave quite a mess beside the roads," he said. 

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Natasha Philpott

About the Author: Natasha Philpott

Natasha is the Editor for BradfordToday and InnisfilToday. She graduated from the Media Studies program at The University of Guelph-Humber. She lives in Bradford with her husband, two boys and two cats.
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