One Piece at a Time

Went out for a club run yesterday morning, and I had garbage on my mind.

Come on, admit it. You went there.

Perhaps I should say, “litter” instead because, after all, I’m the Zero Waste guy, who reduces, reuses, and recycles (and composts) as much as possible before anything goes into my landfill bin. And I’d just completed five proposals for serving events in the area. So I was well prepped for what happened on said morning run.

Our route took us through one of the local parks along the Huron River. As I entered the park again on my way back, I saw a piece of litter on the path and stopped to pick it up. Then I saw another, and a third. I’d intended only to pick up those few items, but then in one of those “God will provide” moments, I spied a plastic bag caught in a bush.

And so the rest of my run turned into a plog. With no target pace or other training goals to worry about, I made it a game; I’d pick up any piece of litter on the path or sidewalk within a few feet of me, and at the end count how many I had.

It was just over two and a half miles back to the studio, through the park and into downtown Ann Arbor, and during that stretch I picked up…how many items? Have a guess! Here’s a photo to help you. Feel free to do a quick count if you like. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

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And the total was: Thirty-four pieces of litter, including the plastic bag. And that was just a fraction of what I saw but didn’t pick up, most of it downtown. (Yes, it was hard not to go for everything, but I’d still be out there.)

I’ll save my indignant “throwaway society” rant for later, and instead pose you a second question. Of the stuff I picked up, destined either for the Huron River or a trash can, how many items actually went into my landfill bin at home?

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(Remember, I’m the “Zero Waste” guy.)

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Okay, enough dots. The answer is one, a wet wipe that is neither compostable nor recyclable. Everything else, including cans, cups, snack wrappers, three masks, and even four used hand warmers, went into my single-stream bin or into one of my TerraCycle Zero Waste Boxes for recycling. One small win for the planet.

The idea of counting was in my mind because I had just finished a proposal to serve a half marathon on the Lake Huron coastline later this summer. It’s being supported by a nonprofit, Great Lakes Great Responsibility, dedicated to keeping trash out of the Great Lakes. Their goal is to save one million items from ending up there. They just went over 112,000 items, so while they’ve got a long way to go, they’re off to a great start.

Now I want to challenge my readers, my local ones in particular. The population of Ann Arbor is over 100,000, but let’s round it to make my point. If everyone in Ann Arbor picked up ONE piece of litter and properly disposed of it, that’s 100,000 items saved from the Great Lakes right there. If just 10,000 people picked up ten pieces, we’d have the same result.

Imagine what we could do as a society if we cared as much about keeping our neighborhood clean as we do ourselves. It wouldn’t be that hard. And I’m setting things in motion to prove it. I emailed my contact at GLGR about the possibility of an area cleanup later this year. She’s all for it. I’m looking forward to helping them achieve that million piece goal!

4 thoughts on “One Piece at a Time

  1. I just signed up for two cleanups, one on land and one along a river. It seems like there’s more trash out in nature than before the pandemic. Perhaps a side effect of more people spending time in nature than pre-pandemic?

    1. I’m not sure that’s the case here. Unfortunately, there’s always been quite a bit of roadside and riverside litter in my area. Even in a progressive city like Ann Arbor there are still plenty of people who think the world is their trash can. The parks are pretty clean, though.

  2. I don’t quite understand where you put the snack wrappers. Were they plastic? Where are you able to recycle them? Good for you for picking up stuff. I did that all of the time when I was either running or walking. It’s obviously harder when running, especially when there is a LOT of trash. I used to pick up all of the cans on the first run through an area, and then I’d pick up all of the glass bottles (those were harder – so heavy, especially if there were a lot), and then I’d pick up other trash. These days, I’ve been having to pick up a lot of trash that the loggers left behind: oil filters, empty cans of brake fluid, oil, and other machinery liquids., and water bottles. It get’s tiring, but I just can’t stand seeing the stuff on the ground every day.

    1. Right, snack bag wrappers can’t be recycled with the standard stuff – cardboard, paper, plastic, glass, etc. So I have a TerraCycle snack bag Zero Waste Box, and the wrappers I picked up went in there. Certain races I work give out hundreds of bags of chips. They are time-consuming to process (for example, I have to check them and empty out remaining chips and other stuff) but I just can’t bring myself to put them all in landfill.

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