How one B.C. mom is creating community by rounding up rubbish

After relocating from Edmonton, Alberta to Prince Rupert, British Columbia with her family in 2015, Sarah Dantzer was struck by the lack of traditional neighbourhoods in their new community. A few weeks later — inspired by a speaker at a local event — Dantzer founded the Rupert Rubbish Roundup. Now in its third year, the Roundup combines connection and clean-up to strengthen community bonds and beautify the city. We spoke to Dantzer about the Roundup, creating community, involving her three-year-old son, and challenges she faces along the journey.

Sarah Dantzer

What was the inspiration for starting the Roundup?

Within about a month of moving here a speaker from Portland was brought in by the organization Transition Prince Rupert. Mark Lakeman is a co-founder of the City Repair Project in Oregon, and he presented a placemaking workshop which — in a nutshell — is about reclaiming public space. My husband and I attended the lecture — it was our first date night in Prince Rupert — and I was just so inspired, so blown away by the truth of his message. So then I — and 80 others — attended the weekend workshop centred around a park redesign. What really resonated with me was the aerial view of the park’s overgrown fields. One woman said she I couldn’t imagine anything else being there because there’s just so much garbage. How can we build stuff when there’s so much trash?

Then when they needed a local paper carrier on my street I picked up that contract, which meant twice a week I got to see the garbage on an intimate level. Around the same time, another organization called Positive Prince Rupert was holding a centralized cleanup. So I met the organizer and we ended up writing a grant proposal together. It didn’t win us any money but by then I was committed, so I went for it. First I did an Earth Day clean up on my street to test things out, then I launched the citywide event enticing others with, ‘Let’s clean up your street too!’ Because centralized cleanups almost never clean your own neighbourhood.

2018 Roundup poster

How does it work?

Ideally, someone takes on the role of neighbourhood steward, who leads the volunteer team in their area. I created a handbill each steward can customize with their name, contact info, and muster point for the day of the cleanup. I also provide gloves and bags. And I put ads in the paper, put up posters, and use social media to promote the event, but stewards going door-to-door works best. A face-to-face conversation with someone gives the best chance of them making a commitment and coming out. And you get to meet your neighbours and make your neighbourhood neat — which is now our tagline.

Where we alive now is such a different place from Edmonton — there are no neighbourhoods. I was used to having a neighbourhood community centre but here there’s not a single one. There’s not even really neighbourhood definitions it’s just east and west. So when I started it felt like there weren’t places for people to gather and grow — which is another tagline we use. So, this past weekend we held a plant and flower sale & swap as a fundraiser for this beautiful ornamental community garden space we have in the city. There are little chess board tables. A lot of people have their wedding photos taken there.

Has the Roundup been a success?

It has, and it’s growing exponentially. At the first event, we had about 8 volunteers. Now it’s up to about 80. And this year we were able to weigh what was collected. We ended up with almost 2,000 kg of garbage. But we weren’t able to weigh any of the big items and I’m sure they weighed over 2000 kg on their own.

It seems the Roundup is as much about building community as it is about collecting trash?

Some of the crew

Yeah. I really feel it’s as much a social experiment as a cleanup. I don’t even like calling it a cleanup, it’s a beautification. It’s not all about litter; it’s about meeting like-minded people who ultimately take pride in our community. Even if you just get out in the garden on event day — everyone in your neighbourhood gets to enjoy that work.

Plus we just bought our first house. Part of owning this house is the importance of knowing our neighbours and being part of a community. Like, we’re putting so much effort into renovating our house it just makes sense to know the people around us because we’re all in it together. So when we moved in, I baked cookies and banana bread and went out — like pretty far — to meet our neighbours.

Ha! How’d that go?

I think some people were afraid at first. Like, ‘who are you and what do you want?’ Because people rarely just pop by. But it went well in the end. Now everyone waves to each other. Part of that might be that it’s a small community — eventually, everyone just knows who you are. But this year we’re planning to host a community block party. And so just kind of bringing back ideas from the good old days. I just want to be a good neighbour and this is how I’m doing it, making it the good old days now.

Your son is three, is he able to be involved?

Rounding up Rubbish

This year he was involved as much as he could be but it’s a hard age to entertain during a two-hour walk. But a lot of kids come out so I’ve been trying different elements like holding a little scavenger hunt. And last year I gave plants to the kids on my street. I’m just trying new ways of making it fun. I think it’s important kids see what we’re doing so those values will be passed on.

What are your biggest challenges?

Convincing my husband that the time is well spent. We’re new to parenthood and home ownership, and everything requires so much time. He’s of the mindset that we have to take care of ourselves before we can take care of others (but he also did a great job on this year’s poster). My take is if everyone does that none of us are good — we need each other. Maybe an experience I’ve had can save someone time and effort. Or maybe I have a tool that someone doesn’t have to spend $200 on — they can just borrow it for the time they need.

Another challenge is getting the word of the Roundup out — trying to communicate to different ages and demographics. I’m a 28-year-old caucasian woman, how do I reach our minority populations?

I’m trying to figure that out because I think we’re all in this together. We all share this space and I think we all want to see it evolve to put its best foot forward. But reaching people is a challenge.

As is picking a date! Our spring is very early and usually, Earth Day is too late because the shrubbery gets so thick and dense. But I’d like if people knew when to expect the event. Just like Canada Day or Christmas.

What’s Next (other than next year’s Roundup)?

That’s a lot of rubbish

Because we don’t have curbside recycling here we have to bring it to the depot on our own. It’s unfortunate because many people don’t have the time or resources to get it to the depot. It’s leading to a point where my husband and I might try to do something about it — it’s something we’re passionate about. Currently, he sits on the recycling board. As a society, Canadians sell a lot of our problems to China. But it’s a broken system so we’re starting to think about the bigger issue.

Also, a group of my volunteers from last year’s event raised the idea of building a community garden on our street and so we’ve applied to a community Grant program for funding. We already have the city permit and we find out in 3 weeks about the grant, so we’ll see. I daresay I feel a lot of confidence in our application.

Sarah and her son, Orion

Last words?

I just hope to inspire people and show nothing is impossible, and that there are like-minded people who care. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with all the problems in the world, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to be heard because I think we need good stories. The Roundup came to fruition after I was inspired by Positive Prince Rupert’s centralized clean up. So keep pressing forward, we’re shaping the future.


Robyn McNeil is a Nova Scotia-based freelance writer, bartender, and editor of the Whole Family Happiness Project. She lives in Halifax, with her son and a penchant for really strong tea, yoga, hammocks, and hoppy beer.

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