The first Pittsburgh Garbage Olympics will turn picking up litter into a sport. On Saturday morning five East End neighborhoods will go head to head in the competition to see which can pick up the most trash.
Lena Andrews is an organizer and member of the neighborhood group East Liberty Trash Warriors.
“Everyone has between 9 and 11 to pick up as much trash as you can, and put it in a designated place, and at 11 you have to stop,” Andrews said.
Then the Clean Pittsburgh Commission, which works on the city’s litter and dumping issues, will weigh the collected trash bags in East Liberty, Lawrenceville, Bloomfield, Garfield and the Strip District to determine which neighborhood takes home the gold.
Andrews says as far as rules go, teams aren’t allowed to take trash out of garbage cans or dumpsters, or place heavy non-trash items into the bags to get an advantage. She’s not too worried about that, anyway.
“I mean, I think people who pick up litter aren’t really cheaters,” Andrews laughed.
And anyway, she said, it’s not about who wins.
“I like the nature of competition, to me the Olympics says ‘competition.’ But it also says ‘participation.’”
Andrews says in the two years she’s been participating in bi-monthly cleanups in East Liberty, she’s really appreciated getting to know her neighbors and working together on the problem of litter.
Sarah Shea from Pennsylvania Resources Council is the chair of the Clean Pittsburgh Commission, and she’ll be the one out there on Saturday weighing each bag of trash. She thinks the Pittsburgh Trash Olympics is a great way to get neighborhood residents excited about something that can feel tedious, even for hardcore volunteers.
Shea said while litter is a pervasive problem in the city, it manifests itself in each Pittsburgh neighborhood in particular ways. Some neighborhoods, like the South Side, struggle with an influx of people coming in on the weekends. That can overflow trash cans. In other neighborhoods, overgrown lots and vacant properties attract litter.
She said neighborhood cleanups are just one way to deal with the problem.
“It’s looking at enforcement of those dumpsters; it’s making sure our trash cans are emptied–educating the public on trying to recycle items versus what they can throw out,” Shea said.
Regardless of how it gets there, Shea said litter has an impact on how people perceive their neighborhood and city.
It’s that perception that Lena Andrews and other organizers of the Pittsburgh Garbage Olympics are trying to change.
“Pittsburgh has a lot of litter, and litter is something that makes a neighborhood look like it’s not cared for–like people don’t care about it,” Andrews said. “And Pittsburghers really do care about their neighborhoods.”
Andrews hopes this year’s pilot will inspire other neighborhoods to join the friendly competition next year. There’s even a trophy.