Monday, July 15, 2013

A special visit to Kansai University: How can we overcome the social stigma of working with trash?

 It was a real pleasure to be invited to Prof. Meli’s class on Eco-Criticism last Tuesday morning at Kansai University. If you’re reading this as a student in that class, thank you all for your participation. It was the first time that I’ve had the chance to teach a university class about trash, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Here in this blog post I want to share some of the information that I found in preparing for the class, and to ask you a question for discussion online.

First, here is the PBS article with the video that we watched together in class. It describes San Francisco’s trash policy and efforts to become a “Zero Waste city”. In the video, you’ll read and hear about the private company that manages the city’s waste, recycling, and landfill, called Recology. Try visiting their website and see how they’re trying to change people’s perception about trash and recycling.

Actually, changing people’s thinking about trash is the topic that I wanted to discuss more in class, but didn’t have time. I mentioned the Japanese NPO Greenbird that I discovered recently, and found SmileStyle and other articles like this and this online as well. In the San Francisco Bay Area of California, many groups organize to clean up trash, and sometimes you can see articles about dedicated individuals who volunteer by themselves. For example, Beverly Knight is an individual volunteer featured in a local newspaper, and is a group that works in several places in California.

Still, raising consciousness about reducing trash and living in a clean environment is difficult work and, I think, there is a significant social stigma attached to the act of cleaning up trash. As I have volunteered with a few friends for several years cleaning trash from the streets of San Francisco and Berkeley, this is one of the main obstacles for me: it’s difficult to explain to my family, friends, co-workers and others that one of my hobbies, and one of my new social identities, is being a “trash guy” who takes pleasure in cleaning the streets. To illustrate this difficulty, in Prof. Meli’s class I handed out copies of this blog post; there I described my experience one day in San Francisco, when I saw a bunch of trash on the street, but still couldn’t move myself to clean it up in front of a group of strangers.

If you have time, please read over the blog post and think about whether or not you’ve ever experienced a similar dilemma of overcoming social stigma. Your experience might be about cleaning up trash, or any kind of social or environmental action that you know is the right thing to do, but that people might look down upon.
  • What was your dilemma, and how did you overcome it? Or were you not able to overcome it? 
  • Why or why not? 
  • What does your dilemma show us about social norms, environmental ethics, and/or cultural differences? 
Please feel welcome to comment here in a few sentences, in English and/or Japanese. I’ll be happy to read about your experiences, and will comment back to you from my home in the U.S.

Thanks, everyone!


Sunday, January 20, 2013

No Butts on Bancroft! And other notes from our 1st pick of the year.

Well you know it feels like a while since we've been on a good, wholesome outing of trash picking. But with the energy and determination of a new year, with fond memories of last January's Sproul Plaza cleanup, and with the National Day of Service yesterday, we figured what better time to get back to the streets. And in this case, the streets in front of UC Berkeley, where classes start again in a few days, and where you can find some of the grossest trash specimens around.

We put out an announcement on the presidential inauguration/Day of Service website, and were super happy to be joined by an enthusiastic group of faces old and new: Youki, Chika, Mark, Margaret, Pauline and Dave were the crowd. Unfortunately, t-ray was still pulling espresso shots for Japantown's ravenous coffee crowd, but he's sure to be there for the next one...

We cleaned up both sides of Bancroft from Telegraph Ave., though really, we could have spent the whole afternoon around these benches in front of Sproul Plaza--there must have been 50 plastic bottle caps on the ground!

And then as we made our way up Bancroft, past Bowditch, the YWCA, the art museum, past Strada, you know what stuck out most? Sure, there were the usual culprits: #5 non-recyclable coffee cup lids, empty pizza boxes and other random pieces of cardboard, plastic spoons and forks from the local eating establishments. But...

But yeah, how about this Reddit discussion thread with over 6,000 comments??? *

Yeah, but. But. Butt. Butts. BUTTS!!!

Seriously, they were everywhere. As if it's not littering to throw your cigarette butt on the ground after smoking. Do that many people really smoke in Berkeley? Pauline counted 20 she picked in just a minute or two before the butts got the best of her. And that wasn't even outside of Henry's or any of the other drinking spots. Clearly a topic for more debate. And potentially even a Kickstarter campaign.

As we walked back from the International House and picked up Durant Ave., swung back up Telegraph to Sproul Plaza again, and now, looking forward to 2013, I was excited talking to Margaret about possibilities to work with local youth on trash-picking and awareness-building, to team up with cool ideas for documenting experiences and outcomes so that the sense of community and personal satisfaction grow grow grow (like, for instance, doing a podcast about trash!)

Well, that's it for this little report from the streets of Berkeley. Back atcha again soon! I'll sign out with a few questions...
  • If you were on this pick, what were your most memorable experiences? 
  • Where should we go & how can we spread the love next time?

* thanks PL for the Reddit introduction!

Monday, August 13, 2012

TRASH/LITTER Update: Japantown, San Francisco, Monday August 12, 2012

The weekend brought in an energy into the neighborhood...a contributing factor, could have been the lovely weather we had....sunny, crisp, cool breeze, blue skies...
people were out and about chatting, smiling, kissing, always a good sight to see on the sidewalks and plazas of any town....
as for the litter left behind...well, the streets were pretty clean overall, just a few scattered bits and pieces here and there... things were looking clean in the Peace Plaza..

could it be that we are becoming more aware of our surroundings, and doing our best to keep trash off the streets and sidewalks?  i think so....

more later


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

movin' trash like the Albany Bulb

Have you ever heard of the Albany Bulb, locally famous for its trash art installations? Check out this blog post by Jane, where she talks about her trash and shares this video about the Bulb.

Thanks, Jane!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Talkin' Trash trailer featuring Patty and the Mystery Picker

If you haven't seen it yet on Facebook, Twitter, or your other favorite social network, check it out here, the sure-to-be-hit trashy show of Summer 2012, pushing us to ask anew: Will the world ever be free of litter? What would it take to get everyone to pick up just one piece of trash a day? How can you & I work together to make our neighborhood better?

And that's just the tip of the iceberg folks...

Thanks to Jim, Mike, and Patty on the production, and kudos to t-ray on the vid production here!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sharp Eye Pays Off for Oakland Picker

Long-time trash picker Claire A. was rewarded handily for her hawklike eyes last Thursday. Following an apartment fire on 7th Street in Oakland that had displaced residents and disrupted transbay BART service, A. reported that she was riding near the affected area when she spotted a suspicious-looking green piece of paper on the street. “It looked like money,” she explained, “so I went back to get it.”

Sure enough, A. had stumbled upon the largest sum yet to be found by a Talkin’ Trash volunteer—$20, nestled right in there with the other bottle caps, pieces of cardboard, and cup lids. “You never know what you’ll find when you’re out on the street,” A. concluded. “I just wish it had been $100."

Saturday, June 23, 2012

let's write, let's sing a picker's "that's cool, that's trash"

So Ray & Dave & Patty are trying to cook up a smokin' rendition of the Street Cleaners' 1964 song, "That's Cool, That's Trash", as a theme song for the upcoming TV show. Check it out here:


So as you can probably tell the lyrics are basically a celebration of a "general spirit of drinking age joie de vivre". Yeah. We wanna soup up the hot rod here for our trash pickin' endeavors, and wanna ask you for your help. What would this song sound like if it went for the general spirit of neighborhood walkin' and trash pickin', and made you smile all the while? Let's mash it up, re-write it, put words that you think should be in the new version...comments below welcome!

Lyrics copied over (by hand, thanks) based on version on this site:
there's gonna be a big party at my house
(la-la-la-la-la-la la-la, that's cool)
I'm chargin' two bucks to get into my house
(la-la-la-la-la-la la-la, that's trash)
you know the food and the drinks are all for free
if you wanna pay the cook you gotta find-a me

now there ain't gonna be any kissin' on the dancin' floor
(la-la-la-la-la-la la-la, that's trash)
and there ain't gonna be any dancin' on the kissin' floor
(la-la-la-la-la-la la-la, that's cool)
i got a lot of records for you to hear
but my phonograph hasn't worked for over a year


there'll be a lot of cool chicks who love to rock now
(la-la-la-la-la-la la-la, that's cool)
they gotta leave by nine o'clock now
(la-la-la-la-la-la la-la, that's trash)
but later on we can go for a ride
i got a new motor scooter with powerglide