Chances are most people have littered at some point in their lives, whether the offending article be a piece of paper, empty bottle/can or gum wrapper.
“When I started running, I was literally blown away with how much trash was on the side of the road,” stated Josh Scheuerman, a Salt Lake City resident. “When you don’t look for it, you don’t notice it.”
Scheuerman has been running recreationally for the past five years. He has completed several marathons in that time and, in each race, has made it his mission to pick up as much trash as possible while on the course. Scheuerman has picked up more than 300 pounds around the state and continues to go out at least once a week for several hours.
He signed up for his first marathon in Provo and started picking up trash during the race. He didn’t think he would pick up trash when he initially started to train for the race, but now it’s something he just can’t stop doing. Scheuerman has completed each marathon under five hours and usually finishes the race carrying anywhere from 10 to 20 pounds of trash over his shoulder.
“Announcers and fans alike are astounded when they see me cross the finish line with bags of trash,” he said. “Often times, they’ll actually thank me for picking up trash along the way.” Scheuerman runs with headphones to keep him motivated because the trash starts to feel very heavy as the miles add up.
“I’ve always had a love for Mother Nature. I snowboard, hike, camp and bike throughout the year, and when I was young I was taught that I should ‘pack out what I packed in’ (referring to trash), so caring for Mother Nature has always been a part of me,” he said. “I guess I’ve just taken those values and tried to bring awareness to the communities about the amount of trash that is being created during recreational activities.”
In 2010, Scheuerman created a kickstarter project called Four Corners to eliminate single-use plastic bags in Utah. “I picked up trash on each corner of Utah and talked to mayors about city recycling programs to see what they’re doing,” he said. “It brought insight to what not only the state is doing as a whole, but what each individual county is doing to further the efforts of recycling waste.
“The Four Corners initiative was the catalyst for what I do now, and that is bring awareness to the running and biking culture,” he said. “It’s astonishing to see how many Goo packs are just tossed on the side of the road. People never think it’s their job or responsibility to clean up trash. So, people are astonished that somebody is running and cleaning up trash.”
Scheuerman’s main concern, besides the amount of litter, is the disposal of plastic bags. “Plastic bags have only been around 30 years,” he said. “When a plastic bag leaves the store, about 98 percent of plastic bags don’t get recycled; they just get thrown away. The reason being, is because they can’t be recycled if they have liquid/soil substance on the bag.”
Plastic bags actually don’t biodegrade; they degenerate through photo-generation. However, this process just leaves smaller pieces of plastic. This can be hazardous to streams, oceans and eventually the animals in wildlife. “At the end of the day,” Scheuerman said, “plastic bags are just made for convenience purposes. There have been 60 cities that have already banned plastic bags, and I don’t know why we haven’t joined the initiative. ”
Scheuerman doesn’t have plans to stop collecting trash any time soon. “That’s why I run, to bring awareness to these communities about the amount of trash that is being created through/during these recreational activities,” he said. “I will keep cleaning, because it needs to be done. I just encourage people to be conscious of what they are using and how often they’re using it, because if it’s not reusable, it’s going into the earth.”