For the past month, I’ve been excited to be one of dozens of people in Baltimore and across the state of Maryland picking up litter every day for thirty days. This is the second year Trash Free Maryland has shared the #30daysofpickinguplitter challenge so I was glad to both welcome back returning trashpickers and encourage friends and neighbors trying it for the first time. What do people get out of a month of trash? What can we learn from their experiences? Here are a few lessons I think we can all learn from.
The first big lesson is that you can pick up trash almost anywhere while doing all kinds of activities. David Redden picked up litter while fishing, Ian McCullough did it while walking his parents’ dog, and Erin cleaned up the shoreline from a kayak.
Ian shared that he is sometimes surprised by both “how easy it is to find litter” and “how easy it is to make an actual tangible difference.” You see some nasty trash on the ground? “5 minutes later…..less nasty trash on ground.” Ian’s pro tip? “Keeping a box of gloves & trash bags in car helps too.”
Of course, it isn’t always easy. Jon Merryman was already “hyper-motivated” even before trying out the 30 day challenge. This month was intense, even for him, as Jon explained “My hand is totally worn out from using the grabber daily.”
But you do need more than trash bags and grabbers to make it through the month. The second lesson is that sharing photos and stories with friends and neighbors helps trash pickers stay motivated. For Erin, “some days were harder than others, just due to long days, places traveled,” but the supportive community in the Bmore Trashpickers Facebook Group helped her stay motivated. Leslie Kay, founder of the Bmore Trashpickers group, has even started organizing what she calls Trash Church—a regular Sunday gathering that pulled sixteen big bags of trash out of Herring Run Park in just a single day.
It also helps when you can get friends and family to join you. Trash Free Maryland managed to combine a litter clean-up with a happy hour and recruited the staff at Wet City in Mount Vernon to join in the fun!
Keith Klump recruited his wife to grab two big bags of trash in Remington for the last day of the challenge, but shared so many before and after photos throughout the month. Imagine the after if even more were mobilized into action?
The third and final lesson is that picking up litter every day is a essential reminder of our shared responsibility to take care of our streets, parks, and streams. Andrew Williams noticed the litter up and down Falls Road when he moved to Baltimore last year but the thirty-day challenge gave him a good excuse to get out and pick it up. Andrew is hoping that his work (and all the people picking up trash this month) can inspire others “to follow the example of those citizens who are committed to this sort of nuts-and-bolts conservation.”
When people ask David why he picks up trash all the time, he simply says “If I don’t—who will?” Erin explained that it “makes me angry that there is just SO MUCH TRASH. Now I see it everywhere I go.”
We’re all looking for ways to reduce litter pollution in our communities. This is what makes Trash Free Maryland such an important organization to the state. Policies like the statewide foam ban are a great start to reducing waste and protecting our local environment. Please consider making a donation, keep picking up litter, and join in next year for another #30daysofpickinguplitter.
Special thanks to everyone who participated this month and to everyone who shared their photos on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter including Erin Saul, Nicole Hartig, Jon Merryman, Leslie Kay, Sarah Guiles, Eryka Wentz, Brenda Fike, Keith Klump, Laura Flamm, Regina Shock, David Redden, Eleni Giorgos, and Ian McCullough! Feature photo by Erin Saul.