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Two years ago, Edgar McGregor, 20, decided he’d seen enough litter. The epiphany came as he hiked Eaton Canyon Trail in his favorite Los Angeles area park. As soon as he was out of the woods, he grabbed a 5-gallon bucket and started picking up trash. He’s now notched more than 650 near-consecutive days of service, picked up thousands of pounds of garbage, and earlier this year, finally declared Eaton clean (for the moment). His work garnered widespread praise, including a shout-out from youth climate activist Greta Thunberg. But McGregor is just getting started.
There’s nothing I can do to stop litterbugs. I can’t spend time worrying about it, getting angry at them or confused, or wondering why people are treating their parks poorly, so I just ignore them entirely. But I can grab a 5-gallon bucket and a pair of gloves and go out to my park and clean up trash.
I throw away the trash, but I keep all the recycling. Every few weeks, I’ll turn it in for money. I either donate it back to my park to help plant native trees, or to politicians who promise to act on the climate crisis if elected. I’ve donated to those in need of food in areas of the country where there’s been earthquakes, extreme wildfires, or a terrible drought. I also donate it to organizations in places like Yemen, which is suffering from a horrible humanitarian crisis.
The weirdest trash McGregor has picked up? A swimming pool chlorine dispenser.
What I pick up most is water bottles. Hikers go out there without a reusable water bottle and they’ll toss the single-use ones when they’re done with them. For a few months at the beginning of the pandemic, the most common item actually shifted to disposable masks that people had. But now it’s definitely a return to water bottles as the most commonly littered item. There are so many of them.
I last missed a cleanup on February 2nd and 3rd. I was up in the mountains, and there was too much snow. Before that it was September 25th of last year. It was too smoky due to the Bobcat Fire, which came within a mile of my park. I really enjoy my cleanups and every day I can’t wait to go back out on them. I love it, even if I can only go for 10 minutes.
I’ve tried to hike just for pleasure. On Earth Day this year, I went into Eaton just to hike without collecting trash, but when I see something, I have to pick it up.
Seeing one trail through all seasons is an amazing experience. Spending all this time in Eaton, I see the first signs of spring and every little change throughout the year. You don’t get that from just a few dayhikes.
Storm drains transport lots of trash. A big rain can undo weeks of cleanup work because local drains lead to the river in Eaton Park. It delivers tons of trash. If you see trash in the street, pick it up or just move it. It’s better than it ending up in a river or ocean.
I’ve found a new park to work on. I’m transferring to San Jose State and will pick up litter on the Coyote Creek Trail nearby, which is next to a notoriously polluted river.
Trash cans and signage don’t work. A real solution to this crisis to create jobs and hire people to clean up. Plastic is everywhere, from our food to our oceans. We have to get this solved now, and we can’t rely on solutions that were thought up in the 1950s.
I dream about clean-up day 20,000, which won’t come until my 80th birthday. Honestly. I dream about that.
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