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Fast Five with Bryan Grochowski, among the world’s top litter ‘picker uppers’

As part of National Cleanup Day on Saturday, today’s MI Environment edition talks with Bryan Grochowski, hazardous waste inspector at the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), whose passion for picking up litter earned him a spot in the Top 25 of the world on Litterati, an app that aims to create a litter-free world and keeps a record of every piece of litter picked up by users.

How long have you been picking up litter?

I think that most people in my community pick up litter, if it’s near their home or walk routes. I started using the Litterati app to track litter types, and locations, about three or four years ago and that encouraged me to pick up a lot more.

EGLE staffer Bryan Grochowski picks up litter in the shadow of the Capitol Building.

EGLE staffer Bryan Grochowski picks up litter in the shadow of the Capitol Building.

How has the app helped you in your effort?

For me personally, it encouraged me to collect litter because I’m competitive. And I wanted to see if I could beat my highest rank record for the day. If you’re two pieces away from your best, from being in the Top 50, then you might just go out of your way to collect two more.

Litterati also has several tools that can be used. You take photos of each piece you collect, which is automatically mapped, anywhere on Earth. One can track patterns of locations, types of litter such as “plastic cups” and even the company that made the product, like “Coca Cola” or “Taco Bell.” If there is a pattern of certain products, like straws or plasticware, then you can consider working to identify and reduce the source of the litter. One school stopped giving out straws with every order and reduced their litter by 40%. And a fast-food restaurant stopped automatically giving sauce packets to everyone.

Did you set out to be in the Top 25 worldwide?

My goals were mostly daily goals. I set out to be Top 5 or even No. 1 on a few days.

The app tells your total collected and your ranking in the world for the last 24 hours. To me, as a competitive person, that is encouragement to pick up more. I noticed that the Top 5 were usually approaching 700 to 1,000 pieces of litter. Eventually, I realized that I could collect 100 to 300 pieces in public parks or beaches with small plastic pieces. If I spent a day walking on the beach, collecting for four hours, I would approach 400 pieces. My record is about 1,200 in a day. I managed to reach No. 1 on several days in 2019 and 2020. By the time 2021 came, it just seemed to be part of my routine to look for hot spots, with easy to collect pieces of litter.

How does picking up litter make a difference? What have you experienced?

There are so many benefits. You get exercise from walking and bending over, lol. I feel good about serving the community and the environment, when I leave an area looking clean. It encourages others to be clean too. It’s like a clean countertop versus a countertop with a lot of debris on it. One piece of litter on a countertop full of junk just fits right in; but on the clean tabletop, the litter looks out of place. So, if you drop something in a clean area, you’re more likely to pick it up. But if there’s trash everywhere, then you might not.

How would you encourage others to pick up litter?

I’d encourage everyone to collect litter for environmental and human health reasons. Plastic litter in particular really doesn’t go away. Unfortunately, if left in place, it often breaks into smaller and smaller pieces, and impacts our lakes, rivers, soil, wildlife, even the air we breathe and the water we drink as it gets shredded under car tires, for example. Picking up things like bottle caps or plastic pieces as you walk on sidewalks or even in your local grocery store parking lot, as you walk past them, makes a difference. I almost always find one piece walking in or out of stores, and sometimes five or 10 pieces. Multiply everyone picking up one to two pieces per day, times 10 million people in Michigan, and we would have 10 to 20 million fewer pieces of litter out there every day!