Nothing ruins a beautiful day on the water, like seeing trash everywhere you paddle. Luckily, there are people in the world like SUP Garbage Man, that are willing to pick up other people's garbage in order to make the water clean and enjoyable for both the animals that live there, as well as us humans. As of 12.31.19 SUP Garbage Man, has collected 624 cu. ft. of garbage while on his SUP since May 2019. This is the equivalent to 17 tons or 34,000 pounds of garbage. To put it in perspective, an average car weighs around 4,000 pounds. Think about how much we could clean up the water if everyone was committed to picking up one piece of trash during a SUP session.
After hearing about what Joe a.k.a SUP Garbage Man has been doing, we reached out to him to see what he had to say about why he started picking up trash, and how he has combined his love of paddle boarding with wanting to help make the Earth a cleaner place to live.
When was SUP Garbage Man created?
I first started SUP Garbage Man in May 2019 after I found a styrofoam to-go container floating in the middle of the river. I picked it up and put it on my board like many items I’ve found before. And then, as I was paddling in, I came across a floating collection of trash...I grabbed what I knew would stay on my board, but knew something had to be done. The next day, determined to grab more than a couple items, I brought a milk crate and trash grabber stick. It wasn’t long before I filled the milk crate with trash. The next morning, I brought two milk crates...and filled them both up....and then something clicked. I knew I needed to document this somehow to raise awareness. And that is when SUP Garbage Man was born. I wanted to show the world what is in our waterways in hopes that maybe I might inspire one other person to pick up trash, or reconsider using a straw, or recycle more, etc.
What inspired you to start picking up trash when you went paddleboarding?
I’ve been picking up trash since I was a kid. It is something I can attribute to my mom. While walking our dogs, my mom would challenge my sister and I to collect things for every letter of the alphabet (A-Advil package, B-Bottle cap, C-Can, D-Doritos bag, E-Earplug, F-Flyer, G-Golf ball, and so on). We never found an item for every letter, but it was fun and kept us entertained on the walk. More importantly, it alerted me to the presence of litter in our world. Ever since then, I’ve been keenly aware of just how much litter is on the ground and in the water.
Photo courtesy: @sup.garbage.man
Where is your go to paddle spot?
Well, we live just south of Washington D.C. and about two miles from a natural 90-degree bend in the Potomac River. The river is nearly a mile wide with a weak-to-mild tidal current. Living so close to this section of the river makes it my go-to spot to get on the water daily and enjoy a variety of paddling experiences. I can get out before work in the summer with the longer days and after work in the winter with the calmer afternoon winds. Unfortunately, this river has so much trash in it, and along its shoreline, that it doubles as my go-to spot for cleaning up. It’s where I’ve had my most epic trash hauls.
Do you plan your trips around places you know there is a lot of trash in the water?
When we travel, I don’t look for places that have trash-filled waterways. Instead, I focus on finding any trash I can in the places we stay. Despite the consistently ridiculous amounts of trash I pull out of the Potomac, my goal is simple... just pick up trash from my SUP anytime I’m on the water and take a picture of it. Some waterways can look clean at first sight, but once I figure out how the water flows in that area, I can hone in trash collection points. It's sad really… trash is everywhere and hard not to see once you start looking.
Have you ever gone out and not seen any trash?
Unfortunately, no. I’ve found something every time I’ve been paddling. That being said, the least amount of trash I’ve found during an outing is a single, small candy wrapper. I was paddling in the Chesapeake Bay from the beach at Cape Charles, VA. I didn’t think I’d find anything based on the currents and huge expanse of water...but, to my lack of surprise, I did find that wrapper. Other times, I’ve paddled and thought the waterway was relatively clean. But then taking a harder look at grass near the shoreline, I am always able to find something.
Photo courtesy: @sup.garbage.man
What is the most surprising thing you have pulled out of the water?
For the amount of times I get this question you’d think I’d have a canned response ready to go… It’s actually hard to answer because I consistently find so many different things at varying levels of strange that nothing really surprises me anymore. Everyday it is something new. I was surprised by the first spray paint can and jug of used motor oil I found… but I’ve found so many of each of those that it’s just another can or jug at this point. Overall, I’m mostly surprised at the amount of large objects I’ve found. On one of my first SUP Garbage Man paddles, I found a BMX bike just below the tide line. I thought that would be a one-off occurrence...since then I’ve found so many large objects like: adirondack chairs (plastic and wood), countless plastic lawn chairs, a seven-foot styrofoam log, a shopping cart, a small slide, a wagon, traffic cones & barrels, rain collection barrel, car seats (yes, plural), a toilet seat, backpacks, recycling bins, and much more. It is baffling how some of these things end up in the river. I guess I would say that the thing that shocks me the most is the dumpster lid I found. I have no idea how it was removed from a dumpster nor how it got to the river.
If you were granted one wish regarding the trash problem, what would it be?
If I told you, would it still come true? :-P Let’s see, I suppose my wish would be for people, in general, to be more active when it comes to disposing of trash and recycling properly. Laziness in this area really irritates me. I see it everywhere, trash that is in the wrong place and recycling bins filled with the wrong items. If a trash can is full, bring your trash another one. If you can’t find one, bring it to your car and drop it off at the next gas/charging station. Also, learn the rules of what is and isn’t accepted for recycling in your area. Recycling laws vary by municipality. Seriously, there are hundreds of thousands of unique recycling rules.
Consider this, how much time do you spend researching products and reading reviews before making a purchase? Now think about how much time you spend researching how to properly dispose of anything... It is probably way less because we tend to treat our trash cans as magical machines that make our trash just disappear. It’s eye opening to consider how lopsided this ratio is...we need to start leveling it out. Doing so may help us start making smarter purchasing decisions and reduce our consumption of single-use items.
Photo courtesy: @sup.garbage.man
What are ways someone can get involved and support you and your mission?
Simple, if you are out on the water and you see a piece of trash, grab it, throw it on your board, and put it in the trash or recycling when you get back to shore. Maybe grab that water bottle or plastic bag rolling across the parking lot at the store and drop it in the can at the door. That’s it, it's that easy. Every piece counts and could save an animal’s life. If we all grab enough pieces wherever we are, then we can start to really make an impact.
I honestly haven’t put much emphasis on trying to recruit other paddlers to clean up with me. Instead, I really want to show people that we can each do a little something in our own way. We don’t need to be part of an organized cleanup event, or community service organization, or load up our boards like I do to make an impact. You can make a big impact by making small changes in your everyday life. I’m just a dude with a paddleboard who doesn’t mind picking up trash...I hope my efforts will inspire others to make small (or even big) changes.
To learn more about SUP Garbage man, check out his website.
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