Posted by Vivian McNeil on

What do a manager of a major company emeritus and business owner, a retired seventy-year-old and a fifty-four-year-old Washington DC rigorous exerciser have in common? They are each road trash warriors. No, these are not some unemployed persons looking for work or prison inmates. Is that who you think of when you see those individuals with their hefty garbage bags and trash pickers or grabbers cleaning up the side of the roads and highways? 

When I would see those people on the side of the highways using trash pickers, I never gave them much of a second thought. Well, I might have thought to myself subconsciously, at least they have a job. Further than that I did not even think of how much more trash would have been accumulated if not for these trash picker uppers. Just like I do not know my garbage men’s names or realize how hard it is for them to carry those heavy-duty trash bags I load up in my cans each day, I never gave these highway trash collectors much thought. Hey! That is their job! Right? Well, as we shall learn not necessarily are these trash gatherers paid for their services. 

Warrior #1

A leader of this project who prefers to remain nameless (we will call him Jerry) worked for twenty-seven years managing a well-known American company and then owned his own business for nearly ten years. He is a husband, father and grandfather who has gotten his family involved in his fight to keep his neighborhood clean. 

It all began when this nameless individual needed to take his dog Sam for a walk and the local high school track where he usually walked was closed for renovations. He ended up driving a mile out of town to the countryside that has very little traffic during the day. The only company on his usual daily walk was the trash in the ditches of those otherwise uninhabited rolling hills. Jerry could not fathom why people would want to litter such beautiful terrain. For a moment, he thought about picking up the garbage. With no garbage bag prepared and his aching back there was no way he was going to do the job that needed so badly to be done. 

The next day Jerry went to Lowes and with the help of one of the workers there bought a great tool, a sixteen dollar trash picker up gun. He also purchased a box of twenty extra-strength plastic trash bags. The war had begun. 

At the beginning of this project, Jerry would take his dog for a walk, collect the garbage, and throw it out into the nearest can. However, he started thinking of ways to be more efficient and productive. He designated one bag for trash and one bag for the soda and beer cans. It was getting confusing to remember which bag was for cans and which was for the trash, so he began to collect trash on one day and cans on the other. Jerry takes his six-year-old granddaughter who comes to visit on Fridays after school, with him on his walks. She has her own E-Z grabber which her granddad bought for her. One Saturday morning, Jerry took three, thirty-gallon trash bags filled with crushed aluminum cans and went to the scrap recycling center with his granddaughter. After the guy weighed the cans, he handed Jerry $8.75. Jerry pointed to his granddaughter and told the guy to give it to his granddaughter. She was so surprised with the money and could not understand why she got paid for something she considered a real pleasure, spending quality time with granddad. 

Several interesting facts were noticed by cleaning warrior Jerry on his cleaning expeditions.

1) The same types of debris were spotted in the same areas. Bud Ice Light bottles and Dr. Pepper soda bottles were consistently found in the same spot each day. There is one five mile stretch of the road that contained one thousand Bud Ice Lite bottles. Hard to believe, no? That is at least 125 bottles in one month! Jerry figured it had to be a carload of guys doing this.  

2) A maximum of twenty-five of those beer bottles could max out a typical trash bag since some of the bottles were not empty and screwed back on. The tradition seems to be to drink about three quarters to four fifths of the bottle, screw back on the cap and toss it out the window. Who would want to unscrew a contaminated beer bottle and pour out the remains? 

3) Jerry found that as the terrain was getting cleaner, trashers were more hesitant to throw out their trash from their moving vehicles. Copycat trash warriors have taken Jerry’s lead and hopped along on his mission making it so much easier. He surmises that people really do like their neighborhood clean and they are slowing down their littering when they see the roadways cleaner.

Warrior #2 

Rick Ogelesby, 70, of North Mankato, MI. was looking for a hobby after retiring. His first volunteer job was on a school bus and as he looked out the window, he noticed all the trash along the commute. After contacting the public works department Rick was given an official vest, and a box of trash bags. Rick has walked along the roads and city parks for the last few years claiming he loves being outdoors and needs to get his exercise anyway. Rick is often surprised at the types of garbage he encounters. The types of bottles that he sometimes picks up can be up to ten years old, since manufacturers update their logos. 

Warrior #3 

Billy Adams, fifty-four, does not just pass the trash he sees on his daily walks from Montgomery County, MD to Washington D.C. Each day, Billy leaves his house at around 8:30 for a brisk twelve-mile walk. In his hand are several white garbage bags. He does not discriminate, he picks up whatever trash he sees from beer cans, plastic water bottles, and of course lots of masks. 

Although for most of us the Pandemic isolated us down in our homes. However, Billy Adams would have none of that. Billy began picking up garbage on his daily walks this past June. Since Billy was working from home and the headquarters of his company in Australia, his workday begins at noon so he has time to do his exercise routine (and garbage collecting) in the morning.

Trash warriors such as Jerry, Rick and Billy have a certain self-confidence and self-worth obtained from years in the business sector. The first time Billy stopped at a Starbucks to request an additional trash bag when his stock had depleted, the store manager looked confused. After several of such visits, the Starbucks manager realized what each bag was for and what Billy was doing. Trash warriors do not mind funny looks. 

Trash Warriors missions are contagious. Billy Adams does encourage family and friends to join him on his collecting walks and his sister, Caroline does go along occasionally. Many onlookers are not only noticing the trash but are beginning to pick it up. 

The Road Trash Warriors Organization

Some of us might feel intimidated to try to be a lone trash warrior in our own neighborhoods. It could be embarrassing to be seen by friends and colleagues picking up trash. You could be considered a secret unemployed person and people could feel sorry for you. Or they might think you are just off kilter. 

Members of Road Trash Warriors are expected to be civil and not express anger when they see fellow citizens littering the streets and roadways. Each member has probably in the past done the exact same thing without even giving littering a second thought. None of us are guiltless because to some extent even the most ardent trash can users are still consuming products that are harmful to the environment. As any experienced psychologist will tell you, you cannot change others only yourself. A member of the Road Trash Warriors realizes that victory is not absolute as there will always be new trash to pick up. 

Another reason why people are hesitant to pick up trash is sanitary excuses. Wearing rubber gloves, masks and using an Aroca E-Z Grabber makes the work easier and more practical.

The E-Z grabber allows you to pick up anything without touching it. Betty Edwards, another member of Road Trash Warriors, has invented a simple trash bag holder made from some products she purchased at her local Home Depot. She was having problems holding the trash bag open on top while trying to drop the items into the trash bag. Betty’s invention using clothespins and some simple flexible rods is a solution to this issue. 

Each of us have individual ways of trying our best to keep our neighborhoods clean. Some will make sure that their garbage cans do not overflow so no garbage is thrown in the street. Others teach their children to never throw a wrapper in the street but to wait patiently for a garbage can. Whatever we can do in this battle to keep our streets clean tends to be catchy. So, do not be afraid to pick up a piece of trash on your block even if your neighbor is watching. The next day you may see this same person picking up some stray trash themselves.

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