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Fags with bags tackle Toronto garbage strike

Party promoter Steve Buczek leads gay village clean up

'WHAT THE HELL ARE PEOPLE THINKING?' Steve Buczek and his team of street sweepers taped shut the flaps of garbage bins in the gay village. But that hasn't stopped some from poking holes in the signs. Credit: Michael Pihach photo

If there’s anything that makes Steve Buczek growl, it’s the sight of seeing Toronto’s gay village littered with trash.

The leather and bear party promoter scoffed when Toronto’s city workers went on strike Jun 23, putting a halt to citywide garbage collection.

The promoter sat on the sidelines for weeks, crossing his fingers that a negotiation to end the strike would be met.

He watched Toronto’s gay village, and many other ‘hoods, become communal dumps of overflowing garbage bins and neglected curbside waste. 

“No one was doing anything about it,” says Buczek. “I was really angry.”

Eventually enough was enough. With rubber gloves, broomstick and dust pan in hand, Buczek, alongside a team of three friends, hit the gaybourhood streets Jul 19, leading a full-force brigade to clean up the garbage piling up in the Church and Wellesley neighbourhood.  

First item on the agenda? To scrap away the excess trash that was spewing out of the village’s packed-to-the-brim garbage bins.

What Buczek found in the overflowing bins was gross enough to make a bear bark.

“Sixty percent of it was shit bags [for pets],” says Buczek, who can’t understand why anyone would discard their pet’s poop in an overflowing garbage bin.

Other treasures found in the bins were mostly coffee cups and cigarette butts, says Buczek. The street sweepers could not empty the bins completely because the city’s garbage bins are locked.

Instead, they simply taped the flaps on the bins shut. “We covered the flaps with a neon pink sign that says ‘full,'” says Buczek. The team also attached additional garbage bags to the bins as an alternative place for people to toss their trash.

One week into the project, the bin initiative has been semi-successful. Some bins are overflowing again because “People have poked holes in some of the signs,” reels Buczek. “I taped the signs up pretty well. You’d have to stand there for a few minutes to rip it off.

“What the hell are people thinking?”

Neighbourhood business, such as O’Grady’s, Woody’s, Steamworks, Zelda’s, the Barn, Timothy’s and the Black Eagle, have lent a hand to Buczek’s mission by providing his team with cleaning essentials, such as rubber gloves, brooms and garbage bags. Woody’s and the Black Eagle, each of whom subscribe to a private garbage pick-up service, agreed to take whatever trash Buczek and his team collect at the end of the day.

While Buczek reports garbage pile-up in the gay village “isn’t too bad,” he is still urging local businesses to do their part in keeping the neighbourhood clean during the strike. It starts, he says, by deterring locals from shoving trash into overflowing garbage bins.

“If every local business put a large garbage bin in front of their store, there wouldn’t be a piece of garbage on Church St,” says Buczek.

Buczek’s next neighbourhood clean up takes place Sun, Jul 26, starting at 4pm at the 519 Community Centre (519 Church St). Volunteers wishing to participate are asked to wear old clothes and work boots. Brooms, dustpans, gloves and garbage bags will be provided.