Walkabout: Two men show that anti-litter campaign is no waste of time
August 13, 2013 12:00 PM
Diana Nelson Jones/Post-Gazette
Boris Weinstein, left, and Gary Smith, formerly of Pittsburgh, clean up in North Point Breeze.
By Diana Nelson Jones Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
On his way from Port St. Lucie, Fla., to see a friend in Central Pennsylvania, Gary Smith had a hankering to stop in Pittsburgh, where he had practiced law and lived before retiring five years ago.
His wasn't a common reason to visit the old hometown. If only it were.
"I couldn't pass up the chance to come and pick up litter with Boris," he said.
Mr. Smith has a passion in common with Boris Weinstein, a retired marketing executive who founded Citizens Against Litter and whose organization of volunteers has radiated out from Shadyside, where he lives, to massive regional redd-ups.
They didn't know each other when Mr. Smith lived here.
"I found Boris on the Internet," he said. "I read his anti-litter manifesto" from 2002. In that tract, Mr. Weinstein proposed a model for success -- to start with a few volunteers, each responsible for a zone of the neighborhood, and to build outward from there.
"I could not find a parallel to you on the Internet," he told Mr. Weinstein last Friday, when the men met to pick up litter in North Point Breeze. "I thought, 'Can you believe it? This guy is in Pittsburgh doing what I wanted to do.' I thought, 'I'll bet this guy's going to run out of steam.' I thought I might run out of steam. But after a couple of years, I got back online and saw that he had gotten traction."
In Shadyside alone, Mr. Weinstein has organized 54 volunteers who cover 17 zones regularly.
Mr. Smith once had fantasies of picking up litter wearing his business clothes in Downtown Pittsburgh "just to shake people up. But we moved."
In Port St. Lucie, he volunteered to be the city's litter marshal and spent one full day a week for six months riding a city golf cart de-littering the city. In 2011, he started an organization called People Serious About Litter. He has its logo on his car and on a baseball cap and the picker-upper he uses to avoid bending. He has a core of volunteers and is targeting areas adjacent to clean ones.
"I think it is more forceful if you grow the effort out of a clean area," he said.
He averages five days a week covering a six-mile area and calls himself "the Boris of my neighborhood."
Mr. Weinstein goes out several times a week to clean up areas of Shadyside. Four times a week, he devotes a few minutes to "picking up butts at the bus stop" right outside his condo.
He said he hears from callers regularly reporting locations of heavy litter. After a recent complaint about North Dallas between Hamilton and McPherson, Mr. Weinstein decided to organize a little group to coincide with Mr. Smith's visit.
They worked under threatening skies and sprinkles. Several people had said they'd join them but nobody did. Mr. Weinstein wore a "Make Earth Day Matter" T-shirt and a Steelers cap. Mr. Smith carried a 13-gallon plastic bag that was held open by a square frame a friend had designed and made out of furring strips.
"I'm in a group we call ROMEO -- Retired Old Men who Eat Out. One of the guys knew I was into this."
Mr. Weinstein and Mr. Smith have kindred spirits in other people who are motivated to regularly pick up trash. But there aren't as many of them as there are of the rest of us, who think litter unsightly but walk past it. We don't return with a bag to pick it up, maybe because as gross as litter can be, picking it up can be more unpleasant.
Some people have an attitude that the litter bug gets off the hook if someone else picks it up. Some people think it's beneath them or futile.
But there are a few who believe there is an incremental overall uplift when the litter keeps getting picked up and that people eventually litter less when that happens. Mr. Weinstein and Mr. Smith are two of those people.
"It is getting better," Mr. Weinstein said. "It is."
Shadyside has 54 volunteers that Mr. Weinstein knows about in a neighborhood of 13,000 residents.
That's every 250th person.
If every 10th person devoted a couple hours a week to a street, an alley, part of a park or a bus stop covered with cigarette butts, societal behavior might tip pretty fast.