Garbage. Waste. Detritus. Litter. Refuse. Junk. Debris. Dregs.

No matter how you put it: we live in a world that is filled with trash. Driving down 2nd St. in Davis, walking across the UCD campus, traversing the bike path connecting downtown to South Davis – trash is everywhere. We can’t escape it. The evidence of the take-out economy is pervasive: plastic and paper food containers; napkins; coffee and boba cups; plastic bags; you name it, you’ll see it. And, of course, masks.

Recently, I’ve joined a group that is tackling trash head on. Davis Picks It Up (or more cheekily, the Trash Titans, coordinated by Davis resident Cathie Bullis) is a group of volunteers – mostly people in their 60s and 70s, but some lovely young people, too – that meets several times a month and concentrates their efforts on picking up garbage.

With our garbage grabbers, gloves, and buckets (and large plastic bags) we spread out and scour a predetermined territory for a couple of hours.

Why are you reading about garbage pickup in Steve’s fitness newsletter? There are several reasons I have come to appreciate garbage grabbing, with respect to my health and well-being.

First, it keeps me active and provides a welcome change to my usual walks and exercise classes. On any given event I walk about two or three miles. The miles are covered at a good pace and the activity of picking up garbage is surprisingly physical. It’s all ‘round good for me.

Second, it’s a great way to meet and socialize with other people, expanding my circle of acquaintances, something I really value given the two years of isolation and distancing we’ve endured. The folks who show up are great; at the last event a wonderful group of young Latinos from UCD (members of the first Latino fraternity on the west coast!) joined us. I love having the opportunity to meet young people, given that most of my friends are in my age group.

Davis Pick it Up group

Research has found that as we age it is important to maintain social relationships. The more isolated we are, the more depressed and discouraged we tend to be.

Third, I really value what I’ll call volunteer citizenship. These days, I look for ways to exercise citizenship in this world that has been so badly challenged by political polarization and grievance. Picking up trash can feel trivial in the grand scope of things (Think Ukraine. Climate change. Challenges to democracy.) but, in my current frame of mind, I welcome anything that expresses positivity in our community, especially when doing it with others.

Plus, studies have found that when we volunteer, we experience positive benefits, with respect to our mental health and well being. Chalk it up to the act of giving, participating, and developing constructive social relationships with other people. (Here is a link to an article that Steve shared with me that discusses these studies:

So trash grabbing has been fun and rewarding. I’ll admit, also, that I find it extremely satisfying to pick up trash: that sense of cleaning up the environment as I move along, accumulating big bags that will be taken to the dump, is quite rewarding.

Trash trivia fact: internationally known humorist and writer David Sedaris walks miles and miles on his own, picking up bags of trash!! In fact, he picks up so much trash that, where he lives (in Britain), the local waste management company named a trash truck after him and he was invited to visit Queen Elizabeth due to his reputation for cleaning up the British countryside!

For Sedaris’s own (occasionally dicey) account of his garbage pick-up work, you might enjoy this article in The New Yorker:

And if you want to read some media coverage of this very funny human being, take a look at this:

Finally, here is a link to DPIU’s Facebook page, which provides more information:

And if you have any questions please feel free to contact me at Hope some of you will join us out in the wild!