‘One Man’s Trash’ puts year-long Wissahickon cleanup effort on display at Fairmount Water Works


On a brisk, sunny morning, Mt. Airy resident Bradley Maule swings open the wooden doors of a city-owned shed near Forbidden Drive in Fairmount Park. 


Sitting on the floor are a couple dozen clear trash bags bulging with all kinds of garbage that’s loosely been sorted by type.

“This is a bag of vices,” says Maule inside the concrete space. “It’s mostly cigarettes but there are dime bags, blunt wrappers and even some needles in there.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

There are also plenty of beer cans. Plastic water bottles, too.

A year-long journey

Over the course of a year, Maule collected all of it while hiking nearly every inch of Wissahickon Valley Park, which cuts through several Northwest Philly neighborhoods, including Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy and Roxborough.

He aptly dubbed the effort “One Man’s Trash.”

“It’s the whole ‘change starts with me’ attitude,” says Maule.

After a short ceremony by the shed celebrating Maule’s effort, a small group of volunteers with the Friends of the Wissahickon loads the garbage into a white pickup truck.

The heap of bags fills the truck’s bed to the brim.

Park-lover Natalie David was a bit stunned by the sight.

“Imagine if we had all these people that are here now do this project, how many more trucks would we fill up and it’s just kind of astronomical when you think even this beautiful park, that is not built up, how much we’ve impacted it by being here in a bad way and how much we could potentially do in a good way.”

The trash is on it’s way to the Fairmount Water Works, where Maule will mold it into art installation meant to shock and educate.

3,786 pieces of trash

A couple days before Earth Day (the exhibit’s opening night) Maule is busy at work inside a 500-square foot space packed with the trash he collected — all 3,786 pieces of it.

Sunlight streams through plastic Wawa cups and water bottles perched in window wells.

Garbage bags full of beer cans — some with old-style pull-tabs — hang from the ceiling near a clothesline filled with forgotten socks, scarves, hats and T-Shirts.

“U Mad Bro?” reads one in the middle.

At the center, sits a faux-smokestack featuring a collage of chip bags once filled with every kind of salty snack: Cheese Curls, onion rings, popcorn — you name it.

The sky blue cellophane bag featuring the cartoon trio repping Homegirls potato chips, though, that’s Maule’s favorite.

“They even have names, there’s Kathy, Maria and Rasheeda,” he says.

Making a difference

The exhibit is expected to raise some eyebrows and, perhaps even a chuckle. Artistic appeal is also part of the picture, but he doesn’t want how he arranges the bags and bottles to overshadow that it’s trash.

“I wanted it to really be about the trash as the comment that, you know, these are our parks. This is where people go to escape the day-to-day and to find a little peace in the woods with birdsong and rustling of leaves. That sounds like a pretty hippie thing to say but it’s true,” he says.

The installation also includes a series of information panels.

Some detail Maule’s efforts during the yearlong project, like what exactly ended up in that shed. Others talk about recycling and park etiquette.

If nothing else, though, Water Works director Karen Young hopes there’s one lesson people take home: one person can make a difference.

“That really is the story here in Philadelphia. It really takes one person to get something started,” says Young.

The free exhibit opens on Wednesday and runs through June 26.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal