Garbage Opportunities

Abilene is a windy place. It seems like most days, our little city is blown and blustered by winds of twenty miles per hour or so. This reality makes sweltering summers more bearable, cold winters more brutal, and earning a low score in disc golf nearly impossible for me. Beyond these factors, though, there's another aspect of the wind that frustrates a lot of neighbors across Abilene. Wind-blown garbage.

After participating in quite a few neighborhood clean-ups, I've noticed that most of what we pick up isn't just litter casually thrown out a car window. Most seems to have been blown out of dumpsters without lids or swept into alleys when the garbage truck is emptying the bins. As a result, chain link fences, spiky plants like cactus and mesquite, and many of our streets end up with more and more litter. It's not uncommon to watch a plastic bag float across the street like a modern-day tumbleweed.

Neighborhood-wide cleaning efforts certainly help, but they can only be held so often without exhausting a community's resources. Alameda, for example, holds two per year. But what can be done about the garbage that accumulates in the meantime? And what about the neighborhoods that do not yet have a major cleaning event? I don't remember exactly how the idea struck me, but I came up with an idea.

Oftentimes, I spend an hour or two walking around one of the five ANI neighborhoods. Sometimes this is meeting with a community partner to talk shop, other times it is with a group of residents for a prayer walk, and sometimes it's just me walking to meet folks. It seems to me like these walks are a prime opportunity to pick up some of the litter that is being blown around. Now when I'm walking through a neighborhood, I bring a garbage-picking stick and a few trash bags. Depending on how long I'm out, I sometimes fill two bags before I'm done.

There were some benefits to this new tactic that I was banking on as I started, like cleaner neighborhoods and reduced work for occasional cleaning events. Though these benefits are helpful and to be expected, I was most encouraged by something I didn't see coming.

Turns out, it's not always easy to strike up a good conversation with folks just by walking around their neighborhood. Sometimes people are wary of a random guy who begins talking to them. That can be compounded when I explain that I work for a nonprofit that focuses on community development. But most folks appreciate seeing their neighborhood a little bit cleaner, so when they see me tossing an empty beer bottle  from the curb into the trash it can break the ice. It's often a way to show that I care about the neighborhood and am willing to put in work to help.

I hope that as I continue to pick up garbage in ANI neighborhoods, I'll meet more folks who care about the community. I think there will be some people willing to join in with me to clean their block. There have already been several folks who I've met because I was slowly and methodically walking through the Butternut/Chestnut neighborhood with my trash bags. I'm looking forward to experiencing more positives from taking these Garb-Opportunities.