Some Remarks on Effective Trash Pickup
It is worth doing the basics exceptionally well, even trash.
My friends and I organize regular trash pickups. We have fun keeping our neighborhood clean. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way:
Trash Tools: A heavy-duty broom and dustpan set is the superior trash implement, and the poor “trash picker” is only helpful for small, hazardous trash (like needles), otherwise, a gloved hand is a much better “picker.” Here’s what you should have for trash, in order of usefulness:
Heavy-duty, contractor trash bags (45+ gallons) — essential. Bring several, always. Don’t fill them over 50 lbs.
Heavy-duty broom + dustpan — essential. This is the best tool for cleaning streets and sidewalks, bar none. Get two of these before you go further down the list.
Trash gloves — I like the cheap rubber and cloth ones they sell at most hardware stores because you can buy a dozen easily and wash them in bulk.Use them to pick up trash with your hands, which are your most comfortable tools. Don’t stick your hand anywhere you can’t see, stay safe.
Rolling trash can — a major quality of life improvement over holding the bag open, especially if you’re alone. I recommend it highly.
Rake — the rake is useful for tree beds or when the trash is mixed up with leaves and soil (in parks, for instance). It’s worth having at least one if you will be cleaning a park.
Trash Picker — it’s a fun toy in theory, but it basically sucks. The one use is picking up dangerous or gross garbage which can’t be swept up or picked up, even with gloves. It’s worth having 1 around for this reason.
Social Tools: It’s not worth improving your city if you’re not going to have fun and spread cheer. I recommend playing cheery music, enjoying time spent with friends, and finishing your pickup long before you become grumpy or cynical. I can’t stress this enough: it is not worth doing public service if you have bad vibes. You do a disservice to yourself (wasting your time) and a disservice to your community (spreading bad vibes in public, and creating negative associations with public service). I recommend a full kill them with kindness, joy, and love approach. GO OVERBOARD and you will make history in your community!
The Inertia Theory of Trash: It’s important to note that trash begets trash, and care begets care. A trashy tree bed will be treated like a trash receptacle (because, so long as it has trash, it IS). A beautiful street corner will stay beautiful longer because it just seems like you shouldn’t litter there.
Therefore, it’s worth making each area you work spotless. Remove every cigarette butt and piece of cardboard — make the area look so neat that it seems absolutely inappropriate to litter.
It’s better to make a smaller, high-traffic area spotless than to do a spotty pickup of a large area. This will also keep you from burning out, bringing me to…
Psychological Management: the trash will keep coming back. Don’t quit. Don’t get mad. Don’t get cynical. It is magical thinking to imagine that a few trash pickups will change the behavior of every person in your neighborhood, forever. Remember, trash pickups are a fun, helpful way to build the social, political, and cultural capital you will need to build better, long-term trash management systems.
DO NOT pick up trash if you aren’t enjoying yourself. Just quit early, it’s fine.
Don’t try to do everything in one day. The goal is to change the cultural environment, which requires consistency. Don’t make it unsustainable.
Take LOTS of pictures and videos — then send them to us on Twitter so we can celebrate with you. Publish essays about it, and let the locals know what you’re up to with a smile! Tell them that they’re invited next time!
Trash pickups are just one enjoyable piece of a cohesive culture that will influence the citizens and government in your ‘hood. Show your joy and enthusiasm to your local politicians and organizers and surely you will befriend them. Use these friends to kindly ask for help improving the neighborhood, and you’re off to the races.
It’s not really about the trash: the point of trash pickup is to rebel against the tendency to do nothing. It is to stand up and say “I am here. I care.” It is to humble yourself — to not think yourself so self-important that you are above the modest work of cleaning your city. You can read more about why my friends and I think this sort of thing is important here. Cheers!
They’re also great for gardening!
Re: "trash begets trash" - isn't this just a restatement of the broken windows theory of policing?