For the last 134 days, David Boudinot has left his home every morning as the sun rises to pick up trash in his Fernwood neighbourhood.
It started as a pandemic project as he was working from home, then it became an obsession and now it’s a regular part of his life.
The University of Victoria librarian and father of two finished Monday what he started to do last December — clean up every street in Fernwood. That meant picking up every cigarette butt, piece of Styrofoam, needle, bandage, fast food wrapper, paper cup and plastic lid over dozens of blocks from Yates and Shelbourne streets over to Cook Street.
Boudinot’s five-month trash total was alarming — 1,575 litres of garbage, or the equivalent of 13 standard CRD garbage cans. That’s a small mountain, with most of the pieces no larger than your thumb, and all collected with a small pail and picker tongs.
“It’s mixed feelings,” Boudinot said Monday. “You always hope that after you clean up, it would stay that way. But as you retrace your steps there are more butts, more cups, more doggie bags.”
He does take solace in the fact he has inspired others in his own neighbourhood and other areas of the city to do the same.
Boudinot’s daily Twitter posts document his pickups and his followers have swelled to nearly 600. He has detailed his grid pattern of the neighbourhood and how much trash he’s collected in each area.
Many were offering their congratulations on his Monday milestone, one posting a video of Kool and the Gang’s song Celebration.
“Well done,” added Janice Williams. “Thanks for making our city a little cleaner.”
Boudinot said there are some regular pickers now in areas of Saanich and Fairfield.
He’s also become a bit of a celebrity in his neighbourhood after extensive print and online, television and radio coverage. He gets a lot of friendly well-wishes from dog walkers, neighbours and businesses — even police patrolling the area.
“A cab driver crept up on me really slow one day and said: ‘Hey, you the guy on TV? I’m going to be retiring soon and looking for something to do. I think I’m going to do that.’ ”
Boudinot said he will continue collecting litter in Fernwood and also shift to the North Park neighbourhood to the east. He also has his eye on Oaklands, Harris Green and Rockland neighbourhoods and is calling on others to pick up a pail and start hauling trash.
“What’s surprised me the most about this is how it deepens your sense of community. By doing a simple thing, you can inspire others. You’re not just complaining about the problem, you’e actually doing something about it — even it’s small.”
Boudinot has reunited people with lost items — including family photos and a computer. He’s also found knives, straight razors and a flare gun, and turned them over to police.
Lately there’s been a never-ending supply of discarded face masks picked out of street gutters and from roadside hedges, used bandages in playgrounds, nails and screws on the roads, as well as Q-tips, AA batteries, plastic bread clips, pull tabs from plastic jugs and — Boudinot’s pet peeve — plastic dental-floss pickers. Many are placed in recycling bins and either not accepted or lost in dumping, and left in gutters.
For larger pieces dumped on the streets, such as mattresses and sofas, Boudinot calls city staff for pickup.
Boudinot recycles and deposits his collected trash in city bins at bus stops and parks, which are emptied a couple of times a week.
“I look at it like it’s 1,500 litres of butts and trash that isn’t going to wash down our drains and end up in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and then up on our beaches,” said Boudinot.
Fernwood Community Association president David Maxwell doesn’t know Boudinot, but has been aware of his daily pickings.
“It’s a great example of someone who cares about their neighbourhood and the environment,” said Maxwell.
He said people are sometimes split on issues in the neighbourhood, pointing to Fernwood’s colourful painted power poles and curbside gardens. “Some people like it, other’s don’t,” said Maxwell. “What [Boudinot] is doing isn’t a showy thing … it’s very selfless and a nice thing to see.
“Anything that calls on civic engagement is positive.”