No, this is not a review of Cormac McArthy‘s apocalyptic novel or the recently released movie based upon it. (Though I did like the book very much, if one can “like” such a dark novel.) Rather, this post is to mark an anniversary of sorts: my 100th adopt-a-highway pickup.
Shortly after my wife an I moved to the Bay Area in 1996, we began to notice how much trash was along the highways. After grousing about it for a few months, we found a local Adopt-A-Highway group that was working a heavily trafficked interchange near our home. We signed on to the group, and we’re still doing it.
When we tell people what we’re doing, many times they say that they thought the only people picking up trash along the highway are convicts. And while we do have our convictions, they are not the sort that are handed out by the court. (Clue: white bags along the highway are from volunteers like us; orange bags are from Caltran and may or may not have been picked up by prisoners).
We go out once-a-month. Some months we are traveling and can’t do it, and other months we may get rained out. But a conservative estimate is that we made 10 of the 12 months in a given year, so we’re at about 100 pickups.
Back-of-the napkin figuring also determines that between the two of us we’ve picked up about 1000 bags of litter. What’s in all that trash? An interesting collection of stuff, including the good, the bad, and the ugly.
- Money. Yes, real currency ranging from a penny (which I may or may not pick up), all the way to a hundred dollar bill. Most times, nothing, but about every two or three months at least a dollar bill or two.
- Tools. Yes, I have found hand tools that, aside from a few scratches, are working just fine and some have made it into my toolbox or are in use at my school. Gloves seem to fly off with some frequency, too.
- Wallets. Perhaps stolen, perhaps left on car roofs at the gas station and blown off on the highway, if we find them we try to re-unite them with their owners who are always happy to see them again.
- Beverage containers (bottles, cans, cups), food containers (plates, boxes, wrappers), shopping bags. If it’s associated with food, we find it.
- Styrofoam peanuts (hate em!), along with magazines, books, newspapers, maps, and almost anything else made of paper you might imagine.
- Anything that can come off a vehicle such as hubcaps, shreds of tires (mostly from semis),
- Road kill. Yuck!
- Sex toys. (Yes, we’ve found ‘em. One can only hope the driver was not using them at any time while on the road.)
- Cigarette butts by the billions. So many, that we can’t even try to pick them up.
Our group of 10 volunteers has dwindled over the years to just my wife and I, so if you live in the Palo Alto area and are interested in lending us a hand once-in-awhile we could use the help. It’s one way that I feel like I am doing something measurable for the environment. I am especially concerned about the plastics we pick up, which otherwise might end up in San Francisco Bay, where levels of plastic toxins are already causing cellular damage in some amphibians, fish, and waterfowl.
So next time you see some yellow-vested, Adopt-a-Highway volunteers along the road give a friendly toot of you horn and a wave, or even toss us c-note. We won’t count that as littering!