I want to pick up trash!
Although my passion for science never abated, I found that my career left me very little personal time (long, unpredictable hours and too many nights and weekends spent "on call") so last spring I decided to resign, sell everything, and explore the world- something I've always dreamed of doing!
It's no secret that our planet is littered with roadside trash, but when I started traveling I was struck time and again by the sheer magnitude of this unsightly and ecologically damaging problem. All over the globe, discarded plastic, glass, tin, candy wrappers and empty cigarette packs are lining so many highways, residential areas, and perhaps most disapointingly, are scatterd along many of the most beautiful and otherwise pristine natural landscapes of the places I have visited (and not just in developing countries- although it's certainly been more visible in Thailand and Malaysia than it was in most of Europe).
So I started carrying a trash bag with me on all my hikes, afternoon jogs, trips to the grocery store, you name it. You could say I've become a bit fanatical about it... Sadly, my trash bag always fills up before I get home, often in just a few minutes. So here's my pitch: I would like to combine my new passion for picking up litter with the myriad biological and mental health benefits of mild cardiovascular exercise and create enjoyable, rewarding opportunities for others to help out and meet new friends.
A little more backstory. I have offset the cost of my world trip through volunteer positions- I've spent the past 5 weeks working on an urban organic farming project in Malaysia and in two weeks I'm headed to Vietnam for two months to volunteer for a community outreach program. The reality is that I don't have enough money to make it around the world without room and board provided through volunteerism. Your donations will allow me to incorporate trash collection into my by making THIS my self-generated volunteer project.
In January I'll be departing Asia and heading to South America and then through Central America. Wherever I go, I would like to organise trash outings offering volunteers (found through local facebook groups and word of mouth) a healthy meal, a guided jog/hike or nature walk, and local transportation to a common meeting spot (when necessary) in exchange for helping me collect trash. All chosen locations will be served by local public transportation (no taxis or Ubers) to minimize transportation costs and I will remain in each municipality at least a month to get a lay of the land and develop community ties to aid in finding volunteers. The specific clean-up locations will be determined by my own jogs and hikes to identify areas that are in greatest need of clean up and ensure that the extra helping hands won't go to waste.
Any money donated to this fund will go into a separate account, apart from my personal savings and will not be used toward any personal transporation costs as I make my way around the world. But I would like to use the money to subsidize my accomodations (not to exceed $15/night) and one trash-outing meal per day for myself and any volunteers who join me, as well as local transporation (bus, Metro) to get us to our meeting points and for supplies like garbage bags, gloves, hand sanitizer and sunblock. Whenever possible I will avoid the need to use any public transport and will use the jog-aspect of this group to get where we're going. In some cases we may need to pay in order to deposit the trash at a local dump/recycling center. Donations will also cover these costs when applicable.
The target fund amount is based on 4 months of hostel lodging (~$12/night) averaging 5 outings/week with an average of 3 people/outing (including me) at a budget of $7 each for meal and water, along with a general fund to pay for gloves, hand sanitizer, trash bags, reimburse dump fees and local bus/metro passes as needed to accomodate volunteers for each outing. When I go out alone (to scope sites or because I don't have any volunteers for whatever reason), I will still remain a trash collector of 1. So just to be clear, my continued efforts are not dependent on volunteers and your money will always be spent on collecting trash.
The budget is of course just a projection. If I get no funding I will keep picking up trash alone in my spare time. If I get extra funding I will keep traveling and organizing trash outings until the account is empty :)
[EDIT: My initial timeline proved unrealistic so now I am just organizing events as I'm able. It's already been over 10 months and I still have a ton of donation money to keep going. I promise I will continue using the donated money appropriately, even if it takes 3 years! Also, last week TrashRuns had it's first independently organized and executed event from one of our former volunteers! I wasn't even there and I can see from the photos that Pascal Wernli did an INCREDIBLE job with his event in Bolivia! Let's hope more volunteers take this initiative!]
All the trash we collect each day will be posted on my new FaceBook group [ https://www.facebook.com/groups/TrashRuns/]
[EDIT: we are now using a FB page instead of a group that you can visit here... https://www.facebook.com/trashruns/ ]
so anyone who contributes can follow along and see where their money is going.
I love the volunteer work that I'm doing now but picking up trash has such a direct, immediate and tangible positive outcome- I feel compelled to find a way to make it a bigger part of this wonderful travel experience. The fact is, when I'm out alone with my trash bags I'm confronted daily by the sad reality that my bags are never big enough. This fund will give me the opportunity to efficiently expand the scope of my efforts at a low cost and provide an opportunity for others to get some exercise and the satisfaction of helping a great cause.
If you decide to donate, please join my FB group to follow our progress- I just made the group so right now it's only me, but I took a few pictures of my trash adventures over the past few days. Here's the link again... https://www.facebook.com/trashruns/
Thank you so much for reading this!
PS- At this point you might be thinking "Hmmm. No matter how much trash this guy collects, more will just be dropped the next day, and the day after, etc. It would be far better to reduce the amount of littering in the first place!" And you're right! I share the same opinion. An obvious way to nip this problem at the source would be to increase the availability of waste receptacles, and convince people not to litter in the first place.
But here's the issue as I see it.....
Creating a program to increase the availability of trash and recycling bins requires participation from each municipality to maintain the bins and would put this on a scale I'm not ready for yet. Moreover, my impression from talking with locals here in Malaysia (and I imagine this applies elsewhere) is that even if I were to focus instead on increasing bins, a great many people would continue to toss their trash on the roadside because it's simply not viewed as a problem.
One last pitch- it is a well documented phenomenon that people are more likely to litter in places where litter is already present (see link below for one report out of Scotland). The simple act of cleaning up an area will have at least SOME measurable efficacy in reducing further litter.
My promise. If, by some miracle, this campaign takes off and spins into something long-lasting for me (rather than just a fun detour before I head back to the rat race) I promise I will begin thinking about how to tackle litter prevention as a next step!
Here is the link I mentioned above where you can read about how people are more likely to litter in places where litter is already present...
Since returning back to the United States this spring I haven’t posted any TrashRuns updates but I wanted to take a moment today to mention some great news*. About a year ago I posted photos from a TrashRun in Bolivia that was organized and carried out by Pascal Wernli, a superstar volunteer who came out to help on several events in Rio de Janeiro and wanted to take the TrashRuns idea and keep it going as he continued with his travels. He and a group of about 10 others did a wonderful job cleaning up the banks of the Rio Chico river in Sucre, Bolivia.
Pascal has since returned home to Switzerland but his legacy lives on! This Wednesday a group of ~30 local students as well as their parents and teachers will be returning to the banks of the Rio Chico in Bolivia for another community-wide cleanup! Funding to pay for all the gloves, trash bags for the waste collected and drinking water will be provided by TrashRuns! After the event I will post again with pictures of what I’m sure will be another great event. Thank you D. Trevor Hirsche and Kristina Huber for your part in organizing this event and for keeping the TrashRuns legacy alive!
*Just to be clear, I'm not looking for more donations at this time. I still have over $1000, which I will continue to use as intended, and, I will pick up where I left off (pun intended ) with more TrashRuns events when I return to Mexico this fall!