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Citizens Against Litter

Litter-fighters featured

Our own Mr. Litterman and People Serious About Litter's Gary Smith, are making headlines across the country. First here in Pittsburgh and now in North Carolina where Smith stopped by the offices of the Hendersonville Times-News to chat up columnist and local litter-fighter Bruce Benson, whose recent column "Can we keep our butts off the ground?" attracted Gary's attention. Click through to read the entire story on the Citizens Against Litter site, courtesy of Mr. Benson.

For this pair, litter is serious business

By Bruce Benson
Hendersonville Times-News
August 10, 2013

A man from Florida walked into this newspaper's office last Monday and asked for my contact information. Following protocol, they did not give it to him. Instead, they sent me his cell phone number. I called him immediately.

Gary Smith is from Port Saint Lucie, Florida, and he is serious about litter. So serious, he has formed an organization called, appropriately, People Serious about Litter. He moved to Florida four years ago after retiring from a career as a lawyer in the banking business, and has been picking up trash for three hours a day ever since.

"I had twenty business suits in my closet, and my plan was to wear them out picking up trash," he told me, chuckling. "I thought it would draw attention to the cause."

I'm sure some people would think another crooked banker or investment adviser got caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and was allowed sunshine only when he picked up trash on the side of the road. I'm also sure anyone who lost their life savings to such a person would hope the crook in the suit would go back to the cell he shares with a grade four educated behemoth named Bubba, a beast seventeen years into a twenty year sentence who thinks his cellmate is "reel purty."

Picking up litter is considered by many to be one of the lowest occupations one can have, perfectly suited (pun intended) for a white collar thief. But Gary Smith is no thief, and yet I think what he is doing is a step up from his previous occupation. And he doesn't have to wear a tie.

When I was in Egypt picking up trash two months after the revolution, I heard a beautiful story about a Muslim Imam. He returned to his home community from serving his flock in a neighboring town, and the people loved him so much that they carried his car from the edge of town to his house. They literally carried his car above their heads to the home of their beloved religious leader.

The Imam spent the next four hours cleaning the public toilets.

"Why?" he was asked, "why do you clean the public toilets? The people love you. They carried your car above their heads. You do not have to clean the public toilets."

"It is because they carried my car that I have to clean this place," he answered. "I am a servant of the people, I am not above them. I need to clean the toilets to remind myself of that."

By doing what he did, the Imam turned one of the filthiest jobs one could imagine (I have seen the public toilets in Egypt) into a work of love and devotion. And I'm sure the people loved him even more for it. A lesson for religious leaders the world over.

There are no public toilets in need of cleaning here in Henderson county, at least that I'm aware of, but we do have litter problems, and we can learn from Gary Smith. He has inspired hundreds of people to follow his lead in Port St. Lucie, and he is not alone. He swung through Hendersonville on his way to Pittsburgh to spend time picking up trash with another inspiring example, Boris Weinstein, founder of Citizens Against Litter. Gary came looking for me because a friend had sent him my May 4 column, titled "Can we Keep our Butts off the Ground." In that column I mentioned I try to pick up litter each day.

These two champions of litter met one year ago, when Gary returned to visit Pittsburgh and asked Boris if he could join him in his work.

Soon to be 82 years old, Boris has had an interest in litter longer than I've been alive. That's more than 29 years ago. (I'm not saying how much more) During World War 2, at the age of 12, he was a member of the Junior Commandos, a group of kids recruited to scour hill and dale looking for appliances and other junk that could be used in the war effort. For the past 12 years he has devoted himself to cleaning up his community.

"It's been an interest of mine most of my life," he said. "so in my retirement I chose litter over golf. I'm not very good at golf anyway."

Boris lives in a community of 13,000 people. He's divided it into 17 zones. He believes with two or three committed people per zone, a mere 34-51 people, that community of 13,000 people can be kept clean of litter.

As of 2011 Hendersonville's population was 13,277.

"You have to buy into the concept that you have to remove litter on a regular basis," said Boris. "And more and more communities in Pittsburgh are achieving that. You'll never get rid of it, but you can control it."

I am not the only person in Hendersonville picking up trash, far from it. But it's not a concentrated effort, there is no organization other than the adopt a street program and semi-annual clean-ups, such as on Earth Day. Perhaps we need to organize, as Boris and Gary are both doing in their respective communities.

"The idea was to start in one neighborhood," said Boris, "refine the concept, and then roll it out and implement it in other neighborhoods -- and that's exactly what happened."

Anyone interested?

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