Zero Waste Campaign Picks Up 200,000+ Pounds of Trash


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Project Road Side Litter Pick Up Team: Go!

Pick Up America
Volunteers with Pick Up America toured the U.S. with the goal of cleaning the country.

The nation’s first coast-to-coast road side litter pick up team completed its journey, but there’s still plenty of work being done. A small group of volunteers made their way across the nation, picking up litter and spreading the word about zero waste. The objective to encourage zero waste policies is ongoing, and through large environmental art projects, education and community outreach, their goal is shared by many.

Founders Jeff Chen and Davey Rogner started the Harvest Collective Inc. to launch a 3,500 mile U.S. roadside clean-up project all the way from the Atlantic to Pacific Ocean. This project was named Pick Up America and kicked off in Maryland in 2010. Transportation included an outfitted school bus that ran off used vegetable oil.

Upon finishing their journey in November 2012, the group ultimately picked up a whopping 201,678 pounds of litter! Most of this trash was thrown out of car windows. Johnna Jackson, Education Outreach Coordinator for Pick Up America, shares some words below about her experience on the road.

“I’d have to say the most frequent litter found would have been anything plastic-based. Plastic bottles (water, soda, etc.), plastic shopping bags, plastic wrappers from food. A majority were items that could be purchased from a gas station. Candy wrappers, beer cans, chip bags, etc.

Car debris was extremely common and consistent as well. When vehicles break down or wreck a lot of plastic, metal, and rubber are left scattered around. People may not necessarily understand that they have left litter since they are more preoccupied with their car, but it definitely sits there until someone else comes along to clean it up. It’s mostly careless purchases of unhealthy products.”

Not Your Typical Cross Country Road Trip

Bringing zero-waste and environmental stewardship to the national stage required the work of many like-minded people. The project recruited volunteers along the way, referred to as Pick Up Artists. On their journey, they spoke at schools, staged public demonstrations, gave presentations, and picked up literally tons of litter.

This in turn helped Americans rethink tossing litter out their car window and consider their consumption.

Jackson continues, “We had volunteer help in almost every city we traveled through. Sometimes it was convicts joining their litter forces with ours, sometimes passionate students, sometimes church groups…the list goes on. We mobilized people as much as we could.

“We tried to organize official clean ups in most communities that would allow the people around to come lend a hand, but plenty of times people would contact us on their own to let us know they wanted to help. Sometimes temporary volunteers later ended up as more permanent parts of the group. We’ve had students return to the bus after we finished their city to come along for the adventure and be a force for change.”

The Future of Zero Waste

With the nation’s first coast-to-coast roadside litter pickup project complete, participants are maintaining some form of active role in environmental justice and activism.

Pick Up America
Presentations were given along the 3,500 mile journey to raise awareness of the zero waste movement.

“Since Pick Up America has officially ended its route across the country, 2013 holds different paths for everyone involved,” Jackson explains.

“The project was the first one to operate under the non-profit The Harvest Collective created by co-founder Davey Rogner. He is currently back in his hometown of Silver Spring, Maryland, engaging in several different projects in and around his community ranging from GMO labeling to the XL Pipeline. I believe he has plans to better establish The Harvest Collective as a fully realized nonprofit that can be a force for environmental good in his area.” Jeff Chen, the other co-founder, is now working in Alaska with the Student Conservation Association.

“I’ve left my hometown in Georgia and moved to Cincinnati since traveling through here and am currently working on an initiative to place a fee on the single-use plastic bags in the city.” Well into the future, members of Pick Up America and The Harvest Collective will continue to build a new form of community organizing and healthy communities. Thanks to them for drawing attention to the zero waste movement!

Visit their website for videos, maps, photos and data and stats that include all weighed bags of litter from coast to coast. Check out their online toolkits for great information on how to go zero waste in your community.

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