Bradley Maule seems to have a sixth-sense for litter.
Just seconds into a late-morning stroll through the woods in Northwest Philadelphia, he spots a green soda can and tosses it into a plastic Acme grocery bag.
Over the next couple of hours, Maule ferrets out companions for the can as he trudges through the snow and mud of a still-thawing Wissahickon Valley Park.
The Mt. Airy resident easily fills the plastic bag. He usually does.
“There’s enough trash in this park on a regular basis that this project is possible,” says Maule, an editor with Hidden City Philadelphia. ” It’s disheartening, but it’s true.”
A mission of cleanliness
Since January, Maule has been hunting down trash in this 1,400-acre parcel of Fairmount Park, which cuts through Northwest Philadelphia. It’s part of a yearlong effort he’s dubbed “One Man’s Trash.”
His motivation and goal for the project are pretty straightforward.
“Doing this is better than just complaining about it,” he says. “Do I hope that it inspires other people to pick up trash? Not really. I hope that people just don’t litter.”
Maule records nearly every piece of man-made refuse he comes across in either his notepad or the notepad app on his iPhone.
Off the beaten path
After passing beneath the steel underbelly of the McCallum Street Bridge, Maule steps off the trail, his trusty trash grabber in hand to extend his reach.
“Eighteen treat-sized bags of Doritos,” he says before shaking open the crinkled package. “And there’s one of them.”
Maule also keeps a log of all of the organic matter he finds, including dead creatures like mice.
“I’m documenting all of the instances of dog s— that I come across, but I am not picking it up,” says Maule. “I’m just not. There’s a line and that’s the line.”
After every trip or two, Maule stops by a shed in the woods. Provided by the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, that’s where he deposits his ever-growing bounty.
When the project’s year is up, the garbage Maule’s collected will become the centerpiece of a still-to-be-determined art installation. The exhibit will include photos and maps he’s taking and making throughout his journey.
“Seeing a year’s worth of garbage in one spot will open the eyes of a lot of people who are park users,” says David Bower, Parks and Rec’s volunteer coordinator. “They’ll become more aware of what’s going on in the park. It’ll educate them; hopefully inspire them to get involved.”
Bower, who helped Maule get a permit for the project and access to the garbage shed, says some park goers are so used to seeing litter every day that it doesn’t register.
Over the years, though, he says there’s been less litter in the woods thanks to people like Maule and City Hall taking a keener interest in keeping Philly as green as possible.
Sarah Marley, outreach coordinator with the Friends of the Wissahickon, says there’s still too much of it. Last year, the nonprofit collected more than 300 bags of trash.
“We had over 1,100 hours of cleanup in the park,” says Marley.
It’s why FOW gladly signed on to help promote Maule’s project.
“We wanted to help sort of change the attitudes of people,” says Marley. “This park, it’s not theirs. Other people are experiencing it. And the litter affects their experience.”