The Blue Bristles

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Walking though Edmonton in the winter you’ve probably seen them. Maybe you’ve wondered where they come from. Perhaps you’ve even wondered where they go. I definitely wondered what they were and why they are all over the place. What are they? The blue bristles.

In the winter, one of Edmonton’s snow removal strategies are snow sweepers that brush away snow. These sweepers are quite effective at sweeping away light ice and snow, which is important for keeping the sidewalks safe. However, through the process of clearing the streets, these brooms also shed their bristles, littering the snow with blue plastic pieces. These bristles are made of a dense recycled plastic, which is very effective at sweeping snow, but not as effective at remaining on the sweepers.

While walking to work in the winter, I stroll along a path cleared by these sweepers. This path is located on the corner of Gateway Blvd and 86th Ave NW, creating a shortcut through End of Steel Park. While I enjoy the lack of deep snow on the path, I find myself picking up these blue plastic bristles that line the sides of the sidewalk. The first day that I noticed them, I picked up 30 blue plastic bristles, which resemble a thick blue plastic coffee stir stick. Following the next snowfall, I collected another 29. The next day I picked up 15. Then, this morning I picked up another 35. You might be reading this wondering why I feel the need to pick up all of these bristles. The first time that I had heard of the blue bristles was during a river valley cleanup in which we found a collection of them along a sewer outfall. These bristles are small enough to fall through the storm drains, and are washed out into the river with stormwater. I have taken it upon myself to pick up these bristles to divert them from their fate in the North Saskatchewan River, and if possible I would encourage you to do the same. By picking up these blue bristles you can help to keep them out of the river, where they can harm fish and wildlife. The city of Edmonton is exploring other ways to clear snow and ice in the winter. While these sweepers are the most cost effective way of keeping our pathways clear from snow, they are not free from environmental impact. If you see blue plastic bristles along your paths, pick them up and throw them in the garbage to save them from ending up in the river.

It takes a long time for plastic to decompose. As plastics break down they don’t disappear right away, they break into smaller and smaller pieces. Plastic absorbs bacteria, microbes, and chemicals, and can harm fish and wildlife that consume them. Hopefully Edmonton will discover a biodegradable version of these bristles that will have less of an impact on the river. But, for now I’ll keep picking up these bristles and I hope that you can too, and together we can help to keep the river free from these blue plastic bristles! A student group at NAIT is studying the impacts of these bristles, so if you are collecting them please contact us to share your blue bristle data (even if it’s not 5 kilograms like this Edmonton citizen).


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