What Happened When I Started Picking Up Trash on Runs
It all began in the summer of 2016. I spent 1 month in Japan working at a ramen shop. Every morning my job was to walk outside and pick up trash on the street and around the harbor. The first time I did it, I spent about 15 minutes picking up pieces of trash all the while humming to myself and saying good morning to the locals. With every passing day I found less and less trash until I couldn’t even spot a cigarette butt on the ground. When I returned to LA the amount of trash everywhere overwhelmed me and my immediate instinct was to clean it up. I thought if I could do it in Japan, why not try it in LA. So one morning I went outside my apartment building in LA and picked up all the trash that I could see. The same thing that happened in Japan happened again- after a few days, there was no trash to pick up. My apartment building was rid of trash but I could not escape the unsightly and also hazardous litter that I saw everywhere when I went for runs.
One day I stopped in the middle of my run to throw away some trash. Then I started to do it on all my runs. Usually I would stop to do it when I spotted a trash can nearby. Sometimes someone would say something to me like “thank you!”. Once someone even started helping me. One day I was picking up trash at a stoplight and a man across the street said “Thank you! I wish there were more people like you in the world!” When the light turned green and I ran off, I felt a hop in my step knowing that someone thought so highly of me just from taking 2 minutes at a light to throw away some trash. I feel like my experience from picking up trash on runs has been positively disproportionate to how little time I have actually spent picking up trash. What I have found to be true is that an area that is clean stays clean, and an area that is dirty gets dirtier. That guy got me thinking, what if there were more people like me in the world? What if it wasn’t weird if everyone picked up a few pieces of trash every time they ran? Would we finally see a world without litter everywhere?
My curiosity peaked and I began looking into how this could become a thing. I stumbled upon a TED talk about a guy who started an app called “Litterati” where you take photos with geotags of trash that you pick up so that data can be collected on forms of litter and their locations. I immediately downloaded it and set out to try it. I went to a grocery store parking lot and spent an hour taking photos and picking up trash. Many people stopped to thank me or ask what I was doing. I felt really accomplished after that hour. But I realized I couldn’t do that on a run, I probably wouldn’t make it a mile down the road.
Upon an internet search I found a meetup group that goes for runs and picks up trash! I couldn’t join them since they are located in Virginia but it still made me happy to find that I was not the only one with that idea. I found a website called Pick n’ Run that organizes trash runs where you run to a designated location to pick up trash. Again I have not tried it but I was thrilled to see that others have tried to do something about all the trash and I am not the only one! When I told my friends what I was doing, at first they called me the “trash fairy” but then they would come to me and say “Ella you would be so proud, I pick up trash on my run today!”
Living in LA, there is no shortage of trash on the streets. What shocks me is how much trash is left around areas that have garbage cans less than a few steps away. I believe that if runners started picking up trash, the effects would be more than immediate. Onlookers might reconsider the next time they litter knowing that others are picking up after them. They might even be inspired to try picking some up themselves! Also I am more conscious of how much waste I produce now just because I see so much of it.
One of the many great things about being a runner is that you automatically care for the environment because you care for yourself, others around you, and the air you breathe. It makes sense that we should want to go a step further to keep our streets, parks, and trails clean because they are our playground.
My challenge to you is to stop and throw away a piece of trash near a garbage can the next time you run. I promise you won’t be able to stop at one piece of trash once you see how little effort and time it takes to greatly improve the quality of your running route. A bonus is the positive feedback you feel from cleaning up and from others around you. Don’t be afraid to use social media to share what you are doing! My hope would be that the trend spreads and we have an army of runners working together to make our urban playground a more beautiful place to run. Then just like the area in front of my apartment building, the Japanese harbor, and the country of Japan in general, the whole country will be clean!
What are your experiences with litter when you go for a run? Share them in the comments! Also if you have your own ideas for how to solve this problem please share them below!