I Organized a Neighborhood Clean-Up and Here’s What Happened

Spring is finally here. The earth thaws and plants awaken. Life returns as the snow melts to reveal…actual tons of garbage. I haven’t quite figured out what it is yet. Is the garbage flood of spring because people litter more in the winter because snow is likely to cover their tracks, or is it merely an accumulation of nasty? Either way, it’s a mess.

The Eco-Challenge in April will be focusing on waste. As I was brainstorming articles and videos, I had an idea. Why not organize a neighborhood clean-up for April 1st to kick off the month? I live in an apartment community on the edge of a creek that drains into the river. So, any garbage eventually finds itself clogging up the stream, caught in the tangled branches of trees and bushes, or rolling on down to the river. I emailed my apartment manager to tell him my idea and was met with a surprising amount of enthusiasm. He printed the signs for and bought the bags. Things were looking good.

This past Saturday was April 1st, 60 degrees and sunny. It was an absolutely beautiful day. 1 o’clock rolled around, the clean-up start time, and my fears proved reality: no one showed up. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t expect it. I’d also be lying if I said I wouldn’t rather have been exploring the trails of a nearby state park with my wife and son, enjoying the blue sky and spring breeze, but I put on my yellow-leather gloves and got to work.

I started at the front of the property, along a main roadway, picking up your standard roadside litter: cigarettes, fast food bags and wrappers, 32 oz gas station fountain drinks, and yes, the occasional presumably pee filled bottle. Once I was done there, I made my way into the woods, mentally dividing the hillside into individual quadrants that I would work through one-by-one, up-and-down the slope. If I had to estimate the total area, I’d say it was about an acre. It was amazing just how much garbage I came across. Perhaps more amazing, or just plainly unfortunate, was that an easy majority of what I came across were items which are easily recyclable. Had I had the energy, motivation, time, and dedication, I would have cleaned of recyclable items and sorted them separately, but I didn’t. Among the most peculiar items I found were a leather jacket, a car battery, a computer monitor, two sweaters, and three individual children sized shoes. I’ll admit, on more than one occasion I feared I’d come across a body, seeing a sleeve sticking out from a tangled mess of debris, damming up the creek.

While I was down there, birds filled the trees around me. Looking up at them was a sight to see. Spring was truly here. Sadly, looking down meant seeing the harsh reality of what people are all-to-capable of, and enormously successful at doing: unwittingly degrading their natural surroundings. I worked my way through the remainder of the hillside and waterway, up to the parking lot, around the buildings and playgrounds, back down to the roadside, and I was done. The clean-up was scheduled from 1-3 pm and I had been out for the whole two hours. All-in-all, I filled 6 jumbo trash bags with 200 lbs of garbage, a feat that I am incredibly proud of.

200 lbs. Think about it for a moment. 200 lbs in two hours. If we all took the time to clean-up after ourselves and our neighbors, imagine what we could accomplish. I understand not having two hours to commit to doing something that no one really wants to do, but do you have 15 minutes? Let’s assume that you could pick up trash for 15 minutes a week. That’s 25 pounds based on my numbers. If just one person were to do that for a year, they would clean up 1,300 pounds of garbage in just one year. That’s unbelievable.

Now, I’m not asking you to go out right now and devote your life to picking up litter, but what about bringing a bag with you the next time you go on a walk or to the park just to pick up what some of what you might come across? What’s the harm?

By now, you’ve probably figured out that I am on a mission to become a person who truly practices what they preach. So, here’s my challenge to myself for the month of April: whenever I go out on a walk or hike, I will bring a bag so that I can help in the fight against litter. Here’s what I’m gonna do. I’m going to keep weighing what I pick up and tally it up over the course of the rest of the month to see just how much waste I can tackle.

My challenge to you, is this: Sometime this week, take 15 minutes to pick up trash around your home, neighborhood, favorite park, or a roadside that you pass on your way home from work. Just 15 minutes of your time. Tell me about your experience, what you’ve found, and how much of an impact you made in the comments below!

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