This isn’t a glamorous challenge. In fact, it’s downright trashy. But we hope you’ll join us, in honor of Earth Day later this month, and spend a few minutes cleaning up your corner of the world. Laura and I patrolled our neighborhoods with a trash bag and it turns out picking up garbage is easy, fulfilling and packs some surprises.
We took inspiration from people who are far more dedicated to trash collecting than us. Author David Sedaris spends hours every day walking along the roads of the English countryside where he lives, picking up trash thrown out of passing cars. He has made such an impact on his community they’ve named a garbage truck named in his honor (called Pig Pen Sedaris) and he was invited to Buckingham Palace to speak with the Queen.
Edgar McGregor, a 20 year-old who suffers from autism, has spent 589 consecutive days picking up litter in Eaton Canyon in Southern California. He has now declared the park clean, although he’ll continue to visit for maintenance. McGregor told NPR over email. “There is nothing more satisfying than seeing brand new animals return to your park after months of cleaning up. I highly encourage anyone with any spare time to give this mission a shot. Your parks need you.”
We’re not as committed as those guys, but it felt good to get outside and do something that had an immediate positive effect on the environment. Here is what we each experienced:
Laura’s Pick Up
I normally can’t help picking up trash when I’m out walking, cooling down from a run or especially on a beach. Litter makes me crazy! But since the pandemic, I’ve curbed my urge to pick up garbage, because, you know, germs! While in Bermuda, I did keep our beach pristine, since I figured any virus was washed away by sand and sea, but in the city, I’ve kept my hands in my pockets (and still spritzed them with sanitizer). This challenge gave me permission to let up some pent up demand, and it definitely made me feel like I’d accomplished something.
My first thought was that I’d head to the Oak Street Beach, since it’s been warm and the beaches have been crowded. I saw four people jump in the lake on the warmest day this week! But the park district has lots of garage and recycling cans already in place, so on a pre-scouting run, the beach looked way too clean for my needs. Instead, I started picking up trash on my own block and within 30 minutes of walking a mix of residential and commercial blocks, had a very full garbage bag. Lots of plastic bottles, one Banana Republic shirt, paper plates and fast food wrappers. Gross, but satisfying! And unlike Marjie (read on below), not one person asked me what I was doing or seemed very curious, which was fine with me. I’m out here to do a job people, not make friends! Until I’m less worried about Covid, I will make dedicated trips with gloves, sanitizer and garbage bags to keep my city streets a little cleaner, but soon enough, I hope we can all pitch in and just pick up one or two pieces of trash each time we head out. Can you imagine? Our streets, beaches and parks would be pristine!
Marjie’s Pick Up
Here in Bonita Springs, my gated community is pretty pristine, so I decided to clean up a local public park—the Estero Community Park where I sometimes take my dog Phoebe to romp. I felt very self-conscious about my solo trash collecting mission. Wouldn’t I look like a weirdo wandering around with my rubber gloves, trash bags and baseball cap? (A black hat seemed like an essential part of the outfit.) But a challenge is a challenge, so off I went.
I discovered a few things. First of all, the park is huge! It has all kinds of amenities I never knew existed, including an extensive Disk Golf Course. Also, it was quite clean. I had to walk for 45 minutes to fill my garbage bag. And the litter I picked up was mostly small stuff—food wrappers, straws, bottles and Easter eggs—that seemed to have been left behind by mistake, not intentionally. I did find some soda cans and a soggy pair of socks, which felt like the grand prize! Here are photos from my outing (sorry about the goofy selfie):
A few people did stop me to ask what I was doing. “A self assigned community service project,” I replied, not wanting to get into the whole blogging thing. “Just want to do something good for the environment.” They thanked me profusely, which made me feel sorta proud of myself. The outing had some unexpected benefits—I learned more about my community, chatted with some nice people, got some exercise and made the world a little cleaner. All in under an hour! Now I’m on the look up for some really filthy places to pick up.