Pick-Up America making nation cleaner

Jeff Chen, 26, picks up trash along U.S. Highway 50 near Whitewater Wednesday afternoon. Chen is the co-founder of Pick-Up America, a nonprofit dedicating to picking up some of America’s trash along major highways nationwide.

American drivers are dirty.

They toss out beer bottles, diapers, pet waste … anything that might be unsavory to travel with often ends up on the side of the road.

Jeff Chen and Davey Rogner, both of Maryland, have dedicated themselves to cleaning up some of the trash thrown on the side of American highways.

“Essentially, we started because America is such a wasteful nation,” Chen, 26, explained while taking a lunch break just off U.S. Highway 50 near Whitewater Wednesday afternoon.

Chen and Rogner founded Pick-Up America, a nonprofit organization with a small crew of young people who have spent the past three years walking along American highways picking up trash. According to their website, their goal is to “build a world where people are stewards of their environment,” by teaching individuals to reduce or eliminate their waste.

Since March 20, 2010, the group has covered 3,168 miles and picked up more than 176,000 pounds of litter. They can’t count how many 30 gallon bags of waste they’ve filled and left for the Department of Transportation to dispose of but estimates it has saved taxpayers thousands of dollars. 

The group, which varies between 7 to 12 members, have found all kinds of waste, often unusual, such as mousetraps, pregnancy tests, cowboy boots, televisions and broken hardhats. Much of the trash is beer and alcohol bottles.

“You get a pretty good idea of what Americans are addicted to,” Chen said.

The trash often varies by region. “One of the things that stands out in the west is how much more brittle the plastic is because of the sun. It makes it harder to clean up,” Chen said.

Not only does the Pick-Up America crew pick up the trash, they also try to raise awareness with guest speaking in the towns they visit. On Wednesday, Rogner was speaking to students at Colorado Mesa University about the importance of limiting consumption and packaging.

“Litter pick up is a complete waste of time if you don’t address the problem of consumption,” Chen said.

Pick-Up America also welcomes and organizes volunteer clean-ups in the communities they visit. One such event is scheduled this weekend beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday and noon on Sunday in the R-7 parking lot on the corner of 12th Street and Kennedy Avenue at Colorado Mesa University.

There are other ways to help the group beside volunteering, such as donating or hosting members of the crew. More information is available at http://www.pickupamerica.org.




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