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New! … Sexy! … Glamorous! … A step-by-step Beginner’s Guide to Picking Up Litter …

Keep your eyes peeled. Plastic bottles may try to conceal themselves, but they can't hide from a trained trash walker.

It occurred to me on Sunday’s 5:35 a.m. walk why so few people are seen picking up litter and trash.

And it’s not because they are compulsed to start at some unGodly stupefying hour. Perhaps they see it as a process that is too complex or daunting: ‘How can I possibly pick up litter? I’m just a neophyte’ they might ask themselves.

Your cries have been heard. In the spirit of public service, Pick Up Your Path offers this handy Beginner’s Guide to Picking Up Litter. It removes the mystery surrounding your role in neighborhood clean up. In a few easy steps and 27 – 40 hours of practice, you too can join the estimated four to 11 of us across the nation who perform this arduous task on a semi-regular basis.

Step 1: Select the proper bag. 

You have many bag options. The go-to bag for most pros is a recyclable plastic bag from grocery stores or other retail chains.


I prefer a stock Harris Teeter brand bag but HyVee, Kroeger’s, Safeway, Walgreens or Target bags will do in a pinch.

My personal choice is the brown Harris Teeter model 805417. It has good tensile strength and can stretch to handle big loads. (A common rookie mistake: chic-chic paper bags with handles from Whole Foods. The handles tend to tear under moderate loads and the paper itself disintigrates when wet. Besides, Whole Payceck probably doesn’t want its bags used for such mundane purposes.)

Pro tip: Grip the bag lightly by the handles with three to four fingers. Don’t strangle it. This can cause unneccessary tension in the trash collector’s arms.

Step 2: Determine a daily route.

Select a route greater than .25 miles but less than 100.

Pro tip: Many first time trash picker uppers default to the route they typically walk every day.

Step 3: Actively look for pieces of litter.

An all-too-common error for the newbie trash walker is to sightsee by gazing at clouds and trees, stopping to pet people’s dogs, stare at their iPhones or gawk at lawns wondering why the grass hasn’t been mowed in weeks.


Keep your eyes peeled. Plastic bottles may try to conceal themselves, but they can’t hide from a trained trash walker.

Instead, the picker upper would be better to direct their eyes downward toward the ground and several yards on either side of the sidewalk. Statistically, the ground is where more than 98.4 percent of litter is found. Focus, people.

Pro tip: If a piece of unseen junk causes you to stumble, look where you’re going. Refer, again, to the first sentence in the above paragraph. Should you actually fall and someone is watching, act like it was the fault of forces beyond your control.

Step 4: Pick up litter and place it in the bag.

Hold the bag open with one hand and with your free hand (the one that is lightly grasping the junk), allow the offending object to drop into your bag.


Position the offending object above the open end of the bag. Gravity will do the rest upon release.

Pro tip: With practice, you’ll be able to pick & place junk in your bag in one swift motion without anyone noticing. You will look like another thrifty shopper hoofing it home from the store.

Well, there you have it. A primer in how to Pick Up Your Path. So easy even an anti-environmentalist could do it!

Next up: The pros and cons of wearing latex gloves to retrieve junk vs. bare hands.

About Dave Bradley (264 Articles)
I was a writer by trade so one would think letters would come easily for me. It is so now, but wasn't always that way. Indeed, the first letter was written the Monday after Ellen started her freshman year in college. For years I've wondered - with no good answers - why I swiveled my office chair toward my computer screen to fire up a word processing document for that first letter. I just don't know. I just did. Perhaps it was the angst of separation or wanting to say things that had gone unsaid at that moment when we parted ways in front of her college dormitory. What was a one-off became habitual. When her brother Reid enrolled in the same college, his name was added to the salutation line. They were kids then and are adults now. No matter. The letter writing habit remains so today. I live in Brevard, North Carolina. I'm well away from where they live and don't see them nearly as often as I'd like. That's why letters, at least to me, fill the void of distance. The pages give me something to say and the space to say it. There is no assurance they read the letters; indeed, I have never asked if they do so. With the pace of their busy lives who could blame them for letting a letter sit unopened? Over time, it has dawned on me that the letters are both communicative - and cathartic. By nature, letters are about the writer; the writer can only write about their situation. Perhaps that is as it should be. It's all about the here and now from one person's perspective.

1 Comment on New! … Sexy! … Glamorous! … A step-by-step Beginner’s Guide to Picking Up Litter …

  1. I go out at 5:30 a.m. too, and this time of year there is ample light then. But in less light a little flashlight comes in handy. Also, I don’t do this, but at Lowe’s you can buy a trash grabber for under twenty bucks – work on your grip rather than the old back.

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