In the Can, Not the Bay

Vince wanted to make a change in San Francisco after seeing so much trash on the streets. What started as cleaning up his block with his daughters turned into a city-wide movement to pick up trash in neighborhoods. Now, Vince spends most of his day organizing clean-ups and encouraging others to care for their community.

“If there’s a piece of trash, you pick it up, it’s gone. It’s not polluting the environment. It feels good — we can do it. So I’m hoping that this empowers people to understand that they can act and it gets us that positive mindset that we can tackle some of these other bigger issues.”

Video Transcript

Vince: We call them butt cans because that’s where you put the butts. That’s where the butts go, in these cans.

San Francisco, California

I got this idea from a local Japanese restaurant. Employees were smoking, just throwing it out in the street, and they said, “Hey, would you guys mind just throwing those away?” They said, “Oh, it’s not us. Not us.” But the next day, they put out a can and they started putting them in there. And that’s where I was like, what if we just take these soup and bean cans and then we decorate them and we put it out where the butts are, and we just put the butts in there as a passive way to tell the smokers like, hey, dispose of them responsibly here.

9:36 a.m. — Clean Up 1

Yeah. Thanks everyone for coming. This is our weekly clean up here in Arguello. Be very conscious of the cars. If you see anything dangerous like needles or poop or hazardous waste or other things you’re not sure of, just leave it. Otherwise, there’s no wrong way to pick up trash. Have fun. I’ll probably have this group do that side…

During the pandemic, I was just trying to get our kids out of the house to do something, and my neighbor and I used to walk our kids to school and we noticed all the trash. We’d say, “Man, someone should pick this up.” We never did it, but I remember that and I went online. I didn’t even know what I was looking for, but I found these trash pickers, and so me and my daughters would just go out. It was 20, 30 minutes just on our own block cleaning it up, and one day we’re on the next block and this guy calls down, he’s like, “Hey, what are you doing down there?” I’m like, “Sorry man. We’re just picking up the trash.” And he’s like, “No, that’s really great, I want to come help you.” And so we exchanged numbers and the next week he was cleaning with us. That’s where I kind of came up with this idea of this collective effort to organize around that.

[GPS navigation voice]: Starting route to Dianne Feinstein Elementary School

Vince: You become your actions. And so for me, previous to doing this, I wasn’t very civically engaged. Volunteerism was not a big part of my life. So now that I’ve kind of found this, it just makes sense to try to encourage other people to do the same and find their way. And then I got a grant, and now I’ve been doing this full time for basically two years.

12:19 p.m. Clean Up 2

Vince: All right, go search high and low, find all those little tiny things. Yeah, if you want it, you can keep it.

Really, I want this to be a cultural change for San Francisco, where if you’re from San Francisco, people assume that you’ve done clean-ups or you do clean-ups, and that’s what I want for us. So it starts here.

Good job. Thank you guys. Was that fun?

Girl 1: Yeah, can we do it again?

Vince: All right. Yeah, we’ll be back.

Girl 1: I did it with my bestie.

Vince: Oh, that’s always good to do with a friend. In the future though, we’re going to go outside the school and we’re going to have these.

Girl 1: Whoa!

Girl 2: Whoa!

Vince: Isn’t that cool?

Maybe the way I’ve changed since doing this is just feeling like I’m acting the way maybe I feel inside. This has been an opportunity for me to actually express wanting to do good things and be a good person.

Producer Tony: Tired?

Vince: No. Ready for another one. A lot of times we just kind of talk about it, but now it feels good that we’re actually doing it.

3:31 p.m. — Clean Up 3

(Talking to clean-up crew) Coming back in June though, so we’ll do it again in June.

Woman 1: Yeah, that day we pick up a lot.

Vince: We got a lot, huh?

Woman 1: Yeah, I was surprised how much trash there was.

Vince: Yep, when you put it all together…

A lot of issues are just so big that we feel powerless to do anything about. This, it’s definitely a smaller problem. To me, it’s not even as important as climate change and homelessness, but it’s something we can actually do as individuals. If there’s a piece of trash, you pick it up, it’s gone. It’s not polluting the environment and it feels good and we can do it. So I’m hoping that this empowers people to understand that they can act and it gets us that kind of positive mindset that we can tackle some of these other bigger issues. Look at how beautiful my city is. It’s wonderful.

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