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Flint, MI— For Chad Schlosser, the days of leisurely strolls through Flint, empty-handed, are over.
If he doesn’t have a bucket and a grabber with him, why bother? His eyes have been trained to spot trash—a skill that would haunt him on an aimless walk without his gear, but one that has helped keep his neighborhood and local parks looking clean and cared for.
“I just try to leave the world a little bit better than I found it, and be a good neighbor,” Schlosser said. “There are lots of needs in the city, and this is something we can do. We can all go for a walk and pick up litter.”
Schlosser is far from alone in his efforts. There are hundreds of members in a group dedicated to doing just the same: The Flint Michigan Litter Killers.
On Facebook, the group’s bio is simple: “just taking the trash outta #flint.”
The group was created by Frank Charles Duverney in August 2020, and in less than a year it has grown to have 887 members who post photos of their clean ups, filled garbage bags or buckets, and encourage each other to get out and do a little cleaning in their own neighborhoods.
On April 22, Schlosser posted on the group’s page.
“We drove by the rock last week and saw this and thought that’s not OK! So for Earth Day, we filled 10 bags in 15 minutes, which was all I could fit in my trailer. And there’s so much more! Happy Earth Day.”
He shared two photos: the first of trash surrounding the Flint rock, and the second of the ten filled garbage bags. The post received 175 likes, and dozens of comments like these:
Schlosser said he hopes his posts inspire others the way he is inspired by posts he sees.
“It’s great seeing people care all around the city. I might just be at home relaxing and then I see a post of someone saying they cleaned a couple streets and filled five buckets, and I’ll think, Sweet, I gotta get out there too,” Schlosser said. “There’s a culture of sharing and cheering each other on.”
The encouragement from others helps some of the members stay motivated to keep cleaning.
That motivation can be hard to find sometimes, said Litter Killer member Mark Baldwin.
“Sometimes you do stuff and then somebody throws more trash out there and…it gets depressing, but when you make progress and see you can make a difference for your neighbors, it’s rewarding,” Baldwin said. “Some days I’m ready to cry because I’m overwhelmed, other days someone comes along to help out and I’m crying tears of joy.”
Baldwin was born and raised in Flint, but moved to California as an adult and spent most of his adulthood there, living a lifestyle that was aligned with nature whether he was in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Yosemite national park, or near the ocean. For Baldwin, every day is Earth day.
When he returned to Flint in 2013, he found lots of vacant houses and trash. When he went to the City with his complaints, he said they told him they didn’t have the resources to do the cleaning, but that they could come out and pick up the trash if he put it into piles.
So, he made two huge piles of trash at one location, and got them picked up. Then he did the same thing at the lot next door, then two lots down, and so on, cleaning up his neighborhood in piles. Clean-ups became a frequent thing for Baldwin, all over the city and in every ward.
They also grew in size. Baldwin said he’s participated in clean-ups where they filled upwards of 20 dumpsters, with lots of volunteers.
“It was really gratifying to see so many people in Flint willing to pick up the slack where the city just didn’t have the resources,” Baldwin said.
He joined the Litter Killers Facebook group last year, and has since been a regular poster, showing areas he’s worked on, and spreading the word about group clean ups.
“If I know somebody doing a clean up, I post it everywhere I could think of to get volunteers,” Baldwin said. He says posting on social media not only helps get people to attend clean ups, but also deters people from dumping and littering in areas they know people are working hard to take care of.
“My goal is to clean it up, so it reveals the beauty of what’s there and then people can say, Oh man, it looks so nice, we should put an orchard there, or a pocket park,” Baldwin said. “The more we can do as citizens, the more we can control this blight.”
Last weekend, Ladel Lewis, another Litter Killer and co-adopter of Sarvis Park, hosted a group Clean Up Day at the park.
Lewis said she realized she could better serve the community in a role as an organizer, than a cleaner. Although she does her fair share of cleaning up her neighborhood, she’s found her role in securing community partners, applying for grants, and organizing clean-up and beautification events
The Clean Up Day on April 24 was done in partnership with local law enforcement, Light’N Up MicroBuddery, the MAC Food Group, and Auto Zone. The City of Flint donated the dumpsters, and volunteers from the Flint Public Art Project painted fence posts to look like crayons.
“We need more than just people on the ground picking up paper. We need more stakeholders at the table,” Lewis said.
She wants to take clean ups to the next level, and is already imagining the possibilities for parks and neighborhoods on Flint’s north side such as painting events, concerts, and group workout days.
“We want to utilize the space, and show people that they don’t have to go far to enjoy a park. No shade to parks out in other cities, but the goal is to get people to stay home, and come to one of our beautiful parks here in Flint,” Lewis said.
She said a clean space is the first step in getting people to do that.
“Since we’ve been cleaning up and there’s been a lot less litter, more people drive up to take their kids to the park,” Lewis said. “I’ve seen the hope in people’s eyes, like they’re taking pride in where they live.”
With three kids, Schlosser finds time to pick up litter when he takes them on walks or to parks. He said people looking to get involved can start small, and participate to the extent that it brings them joy.
“Start by picking up your street, just very simple. If it looks good, walk a street over,” he said. “Join in. It might be fun.”
You can visit the Litter Killers Facebook page here.