by Erica Pasquali, Land-based Programs Coordinator
and Myrna Newman, Executive Director
Congratulations to McKeesport, our 2022 Community Partner of the Year!
Allegheny CleanWays started working in McKeesport in August 2020, conducting land-based cleanups. Since then, 219 volunteers have worked with our staff in cleaning up more than 186 tons of illegally discarded trash and 1,749 tires from the city.
McKeesport’s Mayor Michael Cherepko, City Administrator Tom Maglicco, and Assistant to the Mayor Jennifer Vertullo have been great advocates for our work in the Mon Valley. They've gotten us media coverage; provided roll-off dumpsters; and helped us look for other resources we need, including local office/storage space, volunteers, and grant funding. Tom also often steps in to help with cleanups and even recently joined the Allegheny CleanWays board of directors!
We also work closely with the city Code Enforcement Agent, Eric Gumbert, who reports illegal dumpsites and offers his help anytime we call. We have a great working relationship with the city public works department that allows us to utilize their dumpsters, dispose of tires, and use their restroom (which is a luxury we don’t often get).
Outside of land-based cleanups, our Tireless program plans to focus on the Monongahela River for 2023 which will continue our work in McKeesport cleaning the riverbanks throughout the Mon Valley. Our Tireless program has a lot of experience working in McKeesport over the years and has had nothing but great things to say about the partnership.
by Dani Kramer, Land-based Program Coordinator
On April 30th, 22 cyclists arrived at a parking lot in McKeesport with bicycles and camping gear. They were met by the DumpBusters crew of Allegheny CleanWays- an organization that engages and empowers people to eliminate litter and illegal dumping in Allegheny County. Their goal for the weekend was to clean up trash, ride bikes together, and have a good time outdoors. It was TriTrashLon.
TriTrashLon began in 2021 as a way for the bike-packing community of Pittsburgh to get together and give back to the city of McKeesport- an oft-overlooked town on the route of the Great Allegheny Passage. Nearly a million cyclists enjoy this trail every year, but too few actually stop in McKeesport to appreciate its rich history, varied geography, and reviving waterfront. The event was a success- 20 people spent three hours cleaning up trash, tires, and debris from an abandoned garage and then set off on the trail to camp and celebrate. The return of TriTrashLon in 2022 had a similar goal- but this time, we spent the evening enjoying the Montour Trail.
Nearly all of the participants this year reported to have never spent time on the Montour Trail and were pleasantly surprised! The ride from the cleanup location in McKeesport to the trailhead in Clairton gave a new perspective on the region to the group of cyclists who primarily reside in Pittsburgh. The weather on day one was in our favor, and we enjoyed the sights and sounds of spring along the trail- red-winged blackbirds sang, trillium blossomed, Peters Creek burbled and glittered in the midday sun. The Campground was beautiful- a fire pit, roomy Adirondack shelter, and plenty of space for tents and hammocks. A whole new route to explore was introduced to the TriTrashletes!
Cleanup on day one was a massive success. The volunteers and crew removed over 8,000 pounds of trash and 60 tires from the 10th ward of McKeesport. Household trash, renovation debris, plastics, electronics, and vegetation debris were all swiftly and safely cleaned up from two lots on Gross Street, filling up two dumpsters much faster than expected! Admittedly, it’s the fault of the program coordinator that the incredible power of teamwork was underestimated. So, when the dumpsters were full, we changed tactics and filled bags with litter. A smashing success and a beautiful expression of neighborly love and care from a visiting group of Pittsburghers to McKeesport.
In addition to the hard work and cooperation of the volunteer participants, the event was a success thanks to the supporting partners of Allegheny CleanWays. The Montour Trail Council reserved the gorgeous campsite for the group, as well as providing extra bathroom facilities and alerting local authorities to our planned presence. Financial support came from The East End Food Co-op, Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, Thick Bikes, and Fern Hollow Bikes. A delicious vegan lunch was generously prepared and donated by Black Radish Kitchen. A variety of excellent camp beer was provided by Cinderlands (thank you to the Montour Trail Council for allowing the responsible consumption of hard-earned beer at the campsite). Three Rivers Outdoor Company opened their doors to the TriTrashLon gang to meet up in advance of the event to hang out, shop, and wrench on each other’s bikes.
A single person with the will to do good can do great things for the environment. But the transformative power of collaboration should never be underestimated! TriTrashLon 2022 was a wonderful example of the cumulative effect of teamwork and the joy of community. Every crew member, volunteer, and supporting partner was crucial to the success of TriTrashLon. We made friends, we cleaned up trash, and we got some fresh air and sunshine thanks to all parties involved! We’ve shown once again that the cycling community in our city is full of warm, welcoming people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and work together for the good of others.
TriTrashLon 2023 will surely be even bigger and better as we learn and improve. However, we’re sure that it won’t be a full year before we see some cyclists load up their camp gear and hit the trails to clean up trash and improve their surroundings along the way. After all, the campsite rule is to leave things better than you found them!
Thank you again to all our partners and participants. What a wonderful way to spend a weekend!
In honor of Earth Day, the Allegheny CleanWays crew thought we would share some of our favorite eco-friendly household products, and a little lesson on extended producer responsibility (EPR) and guilt-free personal waste reduction.
In the weeks surrounding Earth Day, we all start to hear more about what we as individuals should be doing to reduce our negative impact on the planet. We plug our data into ‘carbon footprint’ calculators, separate our #5 plastics from our #2’s, learn how to up-cycle household items to prevent waste; all the small changes that can add up to greater benefits for the environment. It is true that we can make positive changes to create less waste in our own lives, and should be encouraged to do so in ways that don’t cause a strain on our free time, budgets, or mental health. There are often challenges involved in doing the ‘right thing’. Eco-friendly products can be more expensive and less accessible than regular consumer products. Disposal of hazardous products, like electronics, also pose cost and access challenges. As humans, we can’t blame each other for doing what we can and consuming what we’re provided to sustain ourselves and, hopefully, flourish. The people who should be losing sleep or bending over backwards to prevent climate change and reduce waste? Producers.
The companies that make the products that we, in turn, bear the guilt and burden of turning into waste (such as Nestle, Coca Cola, Sony, Michelin, Chevron) are the names we can call out around Earth Day. We should demand that they make big changes to their production and consumption habits, instead of your neighbor who buys water in plastic bottles or your family member who uses paper towels. Corporations that produce single-use plastics, electronics, and petroleum-based products are all happy to see us consumers point fingers at one another.
Later in this post, we’ll be suggesting home products that those of us at Allegheny CleanWays use and enjoy, which have helped us in our personal efforts to reduce waste. It’s important to note that the fight against climate change and waste does not have a single solution. Many changes must be made to protect the planet, and none of us are under the assumption that our toothpaste choice is going to fix everything. But it certainly doesn’t hurt!
It’s important for us all to be mindful of avoiding blaming or shaming others, be alert to resisting greenwashing, and only making changes in our own consumption that we are comfortable with financially. Fretting over which eco-friendly hand soap to buy shouldn’t consume our thoughts, nor should it distract us from the worthy fight: Extended Producer Responsibility!
From the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (www.oecd.org): “Extended Producer Responsibility is a concept where manufacturers and importers of products should bear a significant degree of responsibility for the environmental impacts of their products throughout the product life-cycle, including upstream impacts inherent in the selection of materials for the products, impacts from manufacturers’ production process itself, and downstream impacts from the use and disposal of the products. Producers accept their responsibility when designing their products to minimize life-cycle environmental impacts, and when accepting legal, physical or socio-economic responsibility for environmental impacts that cannot be eliminated by design.” Just as we all exist in a society which conditions us to be responsible for the impacts of our actions and choices, so too should large corporations. It can be tough to break away from a mindset in which we all view one another as wasteful, or litterbugs, or lazy, but it’s extremely valuable to think about what could be possible if the companies that make our trash were held responsible for that trash’s full life cycle.
Now, with that context in mind, we at Allegheny CleanWays are still mindful of what we consume. We clean up trash, after all, and are inherently mindful of where our own trash comes from. Without further ado, here’s some of the tried-and-true products that we’ve enjoyed and have kept our trash bins from filling up.
Fillaree: I’ve been using Fillaree dish soap for a couple years and have really enjoyed avoiding plastic bottles dishwashing liquid. Fillaree sends you a bottle of soap to refill your container at home, then you send the bottle back in a pre-paid envelope to be re-used. The dish soap is great! It works well, and has zero unnecessary packaging frills. They have containers for sale on the website, but I just use a glass mason jar (found in the trash!) with a dispenser lid. A subscription to Fillaree to receive dish soap has helped me reduce my plastic consumption, and I feel good about not giving my money to greenwashing soap companies.
Who Gives a Crap: What a relief it was at the start of the pandemic, during the great toilet paper shortage, to have a massive box of 100% recycled toilet paper at home! Their products are plastic-free, made from recycled or sustainable fibers (like bamboo), and boast carbon-neutral shipping. It’s good toilet paper, too!
Bite Toothpaste: The hunt for ‘zero-waste’ toothpaste was a long journey, and I finally settled on Bite. The dry toothpaste ‘bits’ are great and arrive in a re-useable jar. My favorite thing about this product is that I can order refills that arrive in compostable packaging, so I’m not collecting endless glass jars. I haven’t tried their other products, but I’m pleased with the toothpaste and extra pleased to avoid the plastic tubes!
Humankind Deodorant: The greatest challenge yet in my personal waste-reduction efforts was a deodorant product that’s natural, sustainable, and actually works. I clean up trash for a living, I smell bad. I have truly tested this product to the limits. Humankind offers refillable deodorant dispensers and refills that are made mostly with biodegradable paper. There’s still a little plastic involved, but a great deal less than the average commercial deodorant. I can’t stress enough that as the perfect test subject for a product which is meant to keep you from stinking, this product works.
Happy Earth Day,
DumpBuster Dani , Land-based Cleanup Coordinator
P.S. From Our Developmemt Director, Amy
BLUELAND Hand Soap and Household Cleaners: When I started the search to replace my household cleaners and hand soap, I had a long list of standards for the new producer to meet including: no plastic, renewable biological ingredients, ecofriendly packaging/shipping, no animal testing, and just a generally “good” company.
BLUELAND is a Certified B Corporation. According to B Labs’ website, a “B Corporation” is “a business that balances purpose and profit. They are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment.” Along with a number of other certifications, BLUELAND is Cradle to Cradle certified. “The Cradle to Cradle® design concept is inspired by nature: The aim is not only to minimize negative influences but also to leave a positive ecological footprint. As a result, products, processes, buildings and cities will emerge which are safe for humans, healthy for the environment and successful for business.”
Blueland’s tablets allowed me to replace my current soap and cleaners without purchasing any new containers or bottles. I was able to reuse bottles from my hand soap and cleaners by just rinsing them thoroughly refilling with water, and dropping in the tablets. (I did use a little Goo Gone to remove the old labels to prevent confusion!) Once the paper pouches of dishwasher & laundry detergent tablets were opened, I reused empty tea canisters to store the loose tablets. The cleaning products work great, and my family loves the mild scents available in foaming hand soap. I ordered enough refills to maintain my house for an entire year, which limited the impact of shipping the products. I highly recommend these products!
P.P.S. From our Executive Director, Myrna
White vinegar (in a glass bottle to eliminate plastic) and common baking soda are great all-around cleaners and disinfectants. Vinegar’s acidic nature helps cut through grease and grime and (especially important in Western PA) soften hard water. It also kills bacteria. Just mix 1 part vinegar to 1 part water and use it on most (not all!) surfaces. Of course, these properties also make it great to add to your laundry. Vinegar helps kill bacteria, deodorize, and acts as a fabric softener. Baking soda has many similar cleaning powers. It works great on grease and grime – just sprinkle on a damp cloth to scrub your tub or bathroom sink – and is also a great deodorizer. Just leave a box open in your refrigerator, sprinkle some in your trash can, or add to your laundry to take away odors (it also enhances the cleaning power of your laundry detergent). There are so many uses for distilled white vinegar and baking soda in and around your house and they’re cheap, easy to find, and aren’t harmful to the environment or irritating to people with allergies. A winning combo for any home.
2020 media review: what I’ve read, watched, and consumed in relation to my work as the land-based programs coordinator at Allegheny CleanWays
Dani Kramer, land-based programs coordinator. 1/15/21
Back in March of 2020 I found myself suddenly gifted with a wealth of free time. I won’t get into the details of the circumstances surrounding my windfall of me-time because it’s a tired topic. Suffice it to say that I was locked into a dream staycation with nothing but books, movies, and my own tortured thoughts to keep me company. In between bouts of tooth-gnashing and garment-rending, I took advantage of a golden opportunity to immerse myself in media that would enrich my understanding of the work I was physically unable to do. In the before-times, I was deep in the hustle and didn’t permit myself much time to take my nose from the grindstone to really consider the reasons for why my job matters and in what ways I needed to be more mindful of the systems surrounding my work. The following is a review of the media I’ve consumed, and how they relate to my work as the land-based programs coordinator at Allegheny CleanWays. Not only did they all help pass the time, but they enriched my understanding of our organization’s purpose (and my own).
Visual Art: Pat Perry https://patperry.net/art/paintings
I’ve been a fan of Pat Perry’s work for a few years. Many of his paintings depict subdued, pastoral scenes that include aspects not usually associated with fine art landscapes; derelict buildings, tire piles, roadside memorials, abandoned vehicles adorned with graffiti. I’m not an art scholar, and I can’t explain why they make me feel so calm, but I love these drawings and paintings. So much of my work is done in vacant lots, by abandoned buildings, cleaning up trash and debris under an often grey and dismal Pittsburgh sky. My goal is to return dumpsites to a pristine state, so I’m not sure why his images of trash are especially comforting to me. His work really encapsulates what I think of as a beautiful, imperfect, typically North American aesthetic.
Visual Art: Micah Albert http://www.micahalbert.com/blog/2015/2/25/the-women-in-the-photo
I’m new to this photographer and I’m not very familiar with his portfolio; just one photo, actually. It struck me so immediately and deeply when I saw it, I contacted the artist the same day to try to explain the effect the image had had on me. It was so powerful! The photo, Woman Reading In Dandora, depicts a trash-picker named Pauline Mweni taking a break from sorting through trash in what is considered the world’s largest dump site. It’s stunning. The issues of over-production and over-consumption contribute to a humanitarian crisis. It affects us all, but it does not affect us all equally. This portrait is so gorgeous, and is worth so much more than a thousand words.
Documentary: The Story of Plastic https://www.storyofplastic.org/
This documentary is a heartbreaking and eye-opening piece. It puts the seemingly simple topic of the ‘life cycle’ of plastic into a global perspective. I can’t recommend it highly enough. This documentary really drove home for me my own need to recontextualize the way I think about consumerism, waste, and blame. The concept of ‘extended producer responsibility’ is discussed, and is a fantastic practice for anyone who cares about seeking real solutions to the climate crisis. Earlier this year, Allegheny CleanWays hosted an online screening and discussion of the film. I consider it required viewing for anyone even remotely concerned about the environment.
Documentary: Frontline, Plastic Wars https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/plastic-wars/
I watched this Frontline special as a follow-up to having my mind blown by the Story of Plastic. It’s a great supplemental piece and covers many of the same topics in a different style. For sure a worthwhile watch.
Book: Clean and White, A History of Environmental Racism https://bookshop.org/books/clean-and-white-a-history-of-environmental-racism-in-the-united-states/9781479874378
One of my main goals this year was to work to understand why my job at Allegheny CleanWays is just as much (if not more) about social justice as it is about the environment. This book is fantastic, and is a very easy, accessible read. I encourage everyone to read it, not just folks involved in the world of waste disposal. Clean and White is a history refresher for all of us who never really got a proper understanding of American history in school (that’s all of us). It explains what environmental racism is and puts it into a historical context, as well as a modern one. I gained so much from reading this book, not least of which is a newfound appreciation for the people who collect my trash every week. If you were to pick just one book to read on this subject, this is the one.
Book: The Color of Law, A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America https://bookshop.org/books/the-color-of-law-a-forgotten-history-of-how-our-government-segregated-america/9781631494536
Something I have to consider a lot in my work is the concept of property. Who owns the land where I work, who used to own it, who existed on the land before it was ‘owned’. Pittsburgh is still a deeply segregated city, and the inequities can be seen in any statistical map of our city; from where illegal dumping is found, to incarceration rates, to household income. None of it stands alone. This book helped me begin to understand how American cities are divided, and why. The information presented is upsetting, and shocking, again because my formal education of American history is so deeply lacking. As a homeowner, and simply as a person trying to exist in a functioning society in a city, this was another extremely worthwhile read.
Book: A Terrible Thing to Waste, Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind https://bookshop.org/books/a-terrible-thing-to-waste-environmental-racism-and-its-assault-on-the-american-mind/9780316509442
Where Clean and White approached the subject of environmental racism from a historian’s point of view, A Terrible Thing to Waste tackles the subject from a scientific and medical perspective. Again, nothing I’ve read has been chock full of happy news, but this book does conclude with some valuable and hopeful information on how things can improve toward a healthy, more equitable world. This was a fascinating read which details the ways that environmental racism effects the human body and mind. Understanding that mental health is not separate from physical health, that they go hand in hand, makes the need to work toward equity and justice feel very urgent.
Book (fiction): The Overstory https://bookshop.org/books/the-overstory/9780393356687
I had to take some breaks from non-fiction to let myself enjoy some flights of fancy this year. As a feminist who is basically always looking for a way to criticize the way women are depicted in media, I had some problems with this novel, but overall, I enjoyed it. If you’re already enamored with trees, this book can feel like you’re the choir being preached to by the author. It did inspire me to learn about real-life environmental activists, particularly the amazing folks of the Yellow Finch Tree Sit and the water protectors fighting against the Line 3 pipeline. If you’re looking for some fiction to inspire you, and remind you of the real humans who are dedicating themselves to the climate justice fight, The Overstory is an entertaining way to catch that feeling.
Book: This Changes Everything, Capitalism vs The Climate https://bookshop.org/books/this-changes-everything-capitalism-vs-the-climate/9781451697391
Also a documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xb4wp4QK2PU
To be perfectly honest, at the time of my composing this blog post, I haven’t read much of this book. I dove into it earlier this summer, and it was too much for me. My mindset this past summer was such that I was worried this book would get me fired up enough to shed all my earthly possessions and commit myself fully to smashing bank windows with bricks, which would not have been great for my career or future as a functioning member of society. The global impact of capitalism on our environment and our humanity is so staggering and overwhelming, I couldn’t really handle reading about all the gory details. But I will return to it because knowledge is power, as they say, and I encourage you to read it too. Maybe in 2021 I’ll start a book club that doubles as a Hard Truths Support Group.
I recently watched the documentary film adaptation of the book, which was much more digestible. In fact, I felt a bit of hope after watching it! The film focuses on everyday people and activists around the world who are affected by, and fighting back against, capitalism’s disastrous effects on climate. The book is dense, but I think the film has warmed me up to returning to it with a more open and prepared mind. During our dumpsite cleanups, we not only see the results of environmental racism, but capitalism as well; boldly branded single-use plastics, electronics built specifically to not last, etc. I’m striving to more fully understand how capitalism affects us all in regards to it’s impact on the environment and climate.
Graphic Novel: Letters to Survivors https://bookshop.org/books/letter-to-survivors/9781681372402
Last but not least, a delicious treat of a comic book from cartoonist and Charlie Hebdo contributor Gebe. This book combines so many of my interests: bicycle messengers, post-apocalyptic dystopia, the postal service, and the evils of consumerism! A beautiful book, and still so terribly timely despite having been written in 1981. It’s only recently become available in English, and I recommend that you take advantage of this gift and enjoy it. We all have experienced isolation in the past year. I think this was a comfort to me when I was feeling lonely and missing the companionship and joy of working with volunteer groups. While this selection has a bit less of a connection to my work at Allegheny CleanWays as a whole, I think it’s still worthwhile to include, as it’s a book with some cold comfort for the times we are living in as well as a bit of hope.