Trash talkin’

Chico woman puts her hate of litter into action

Shelly Rogers trash-hunting along the Chico bike path she cleans up religiously.

Shelly Rogers trash-hunting along the Chico bike path she cleans up religiously.

Photo by Mason Masis

About 10 years, ago, Chicoan Shelly Rogers began picking up trash as a “hobby” during her walks through Upper Bidwell Park with her now-deceased husky-corgi mix, Blue. Rogers said she was astonished by the amount of trash she’d find and decided something had to be done. So, last year, she began what some have called a fool’s errand—cleaning up the litter along the bike path that begins at The Esplanade and continues past Rio Lindo and East avenues. She documents her quest on Facebook and Instagram (search “Chico Trash Walking”). Many people know she goes on trash walks, but until now, she’s kept her identity under wraps when it comes to social media. The accounts help document the trash she finds, she says, including but not limited to needles, razor blades, rotting food, unidentifiable liquids, disposable gloves, condoms and couches. Last Saturday (Aug. 13), the CN&R met up with Rogers outside her work, the Pacific Gas & Electric building on Rio Lindo Avenue. Armed with two trash grabbers, a reusable coffee cup and trash bags, Rogers discussed her hopes, doubts and the future of her ongoing war against refuse.

You’ve been trying to clean up this area for more than a year—have you seen much progress?

My initial thought was the more I pick up, the less there was going to be. So I started taking pictures, and I started the Facebook page when I was naive and optimistic and I thought, “I’ll pick up litter and document what kind of difference it’s making.” It has not worked out like that. In fact, there’s probably more now than there was when I started here. I don’t know why. I can’t really give a reason for it. But the things I find, and really just the volume of it, is really just bizarre, so I just continue to take pictures.

Have you received any feedback on your work?

If you see somebody picking up trash and you give them a few nice words, it’s a really nice thing to do. It will keep them going. [On] social media, everyone has been really, really encouraging. When I first started on the bike path, I felt like a total weirdo, and I still kind of do. I wonder what people think about me. I think a lot of people think I work for the city. I imagine people think I’m doing court-ordered community service. So getting the nice feedback from social media has been so encouraging. There are some days when I think I don’t want to do this anymore. It’s depressing. It’s discouraging. But then I think, you know, if I post a picture on Instagram and I get some nice feedback, I know that’ll keep me going.

What about people on the bike path? How do they react?

I would say about a third of the people say nice things. About two-thirds of the people ignore me. When I’m at One-Mile, pretty much everybody ignores me. They almost go out of their way to pretend like they don’t see me. I don’t like it.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve found?

About two weeks ago, I found a mannequin head, like an art student would use. So I’m walking along and there’s just this mannequin head lying near a backpack. I thought, ‘OK, well that’s interesting.’ There was a bunch of other stuff near it like makeup, some clothes. I assume it was from a car that got broken into and whatever wasn’t taken was thrown by the path, and the mannequin head did not make the cut.

Are there times when the volume of trash is especially bad? How much do you typically pick up?

Here’s what I’ve noticed: In the hot weather, summertime, it’s twice as bad as in the winter. There are just more people out. I would say this is normal for summertime. Sometimes I can only make it [just more than halfway to East Avenue] before I have to turn around. Rio Lindo to East Avenue is a quarter mile. So sometimes I get 13 gallons of litter in 16-hundredths of a mile on a path I just picked up 24 hours ago.

What can people do to help?

I would say if anybody who reads this or thought about this would pick up three pieces of litter a day, even around their house or their business, Chico would look so much better. That’s the downside of picking up trash—you start to see litter all over the place. I want to jump out of my car at stop lights and get litter. I haven’t gotten to that point yet, but I have a feeling I might. So the end game, even if a few people are inspired to pick up where they live, where they work, where they drive by every day, then my picking up every day would be worth it.