An innovative, environmentally-friendly workout idea: cleaning up a garbage-bag-worth of cigarette butts. A single butt only weighs about 1 gram, but once you pick up hundreds of them, they start to add up to some serious bicep strengthening. That’s how I celebrated Earth Day 2019 with the Anacostia Watershed Society on April 13th.
As a fellow with Catalogue for Philanthropy, I have the honor of working with and learning about over 400 locally-based nonprofits in the Greater Washington Region. So when my school’s community service committee asked me to arrange a volunteer opportunity for myself and other American University students for Earth Day, I knew where to look. Time to join the #Trashtag Challenge!
Anacostia Watershed Society’s annual event engages nearly 2000 volunteers for 44 sites around the Anacostia River. My site’s neighborhood in Anacostia was not directly next to the river but in the river’s wider watershed area; whenever it rains, all of the trash in the residential area flows into the river, hurting wildlife and the ecosystem.
Fellow volunteers and I met at We Act Radio Station, a hip local institution and de facto community center. I sat among piles of books from their ongoing book drive. We were welcomed by Stacy and Aroni, two friendly and enthusiastic Anacostia Watershed Society staff members and our team leaders for the day. They gave us gloves to protect our hands, picker-uppers to prevent back strain, and matching t-shirts to look cool and groovy.
It was a beautiful Saturday morning to go for a stroll and pick up garbage. We made a circle around several blocks, carrying a blue bag for recyclables and a white bag for general trash. About 70% of what I picked up were cigarette butts. In public discourse, we acknowledge how cigarettes choke our bodies, but not enough about how they choke the environment too. What made me saddest were butts littered on the ground not 3 feet away from public trash cans.
It was rewarding work. Quite a few residents stopped to thank us and a few even added some trash to my bag. I was pleased too by how social it was; the steady and relaxing pace of our walk through the neighborhood easily facilitated conversations with new and interesting people. Our crew even had a beauty queen! If you want to meet new people, explore a new neighborhood, and make a difference in the environment, I strongly recommend signing up for clean up events. There’s no better way to celebrate the new springtime weather with friends than going and picking up a bag of butts.
Written by Nancy Erickson, Nonprofit Programs Fellow at the Catalogue for Philanthropy