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A Litter Bit At A Time: Pittsburgh's Garbage Olympics Returns For Fifth Year

In Pittsburgh’s Garbage Olympics, there really is just one event: picking up trash.

But the friendly competition between neighborhood teams has proved increasingly popular since the inaugural 2017 edition, which drew squads from five neighborhoods. In 2020, nearly 800 volunteers on 38 teams pitched in to collect more than 1,100 bags of garbage, more than 670 tires, and about 250 illegally discarded TVs, according to City of Pittsburgh figures.

Carrick’s team took home the “Oscar” — the first-place trophy for most trash collected — gathering 91 bags of trash and much more, including two refrigerators and an exercise bike.

This year, teams representing nearly half of Pittsburgh’s 90 neighborhood are expected for the fifth annual Garbage Olympics, a two-hour event Sat., Sept. 18.

Renee Robinson, of Garfield, co-founded the event, inspired by her own experience collecting litter, hearing about people in other neighborhoods doing the same, and wondering, “Wouldn’t it be cool to compete against each other to see who could pick up the most litter and trash?”

Robinson partnered with the City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Public Works and Mayor Bill Peduto’s Clean Pittsburgh Commission, which provide volunteers with bags, gloves and other gear, and collect all the refuse after the games are through. She said she’s pleased with how the event has grown.

“It’s really exciting to have people to participate and pick up trash and litter, and … just make an impact in our neighborhoods the way we can to clean it up,” she said.

Organizers of teams range from individuals to community groups, said Robinson.

“Each act of cleaning up litter isn't just one action. It accomplished dozens of things, every single time,” said city anti-litter specialist Chris Mitchell, in a statement. “It raises pride in your community. It makes your community safer. It makes your community stronger. It makes the land and water around you less poisonous. It discourages further littering by keeping it clean in the first place.”

The Department of Public Works hauls the trash to the landfill, and the tires to be recycled. Environmental Coordination Services & Recycling, the city’s vendor for hard-to-recycle items, collected the electronic waste for proper disposal.

Robinson said trash-picking techniques have evolved since the Garbage Olympics began.

“I think that now it’s starting to be more like strategic, so people bring their pickup truck, people notice spots,” she said. “I think people start to become more aware of dumping in their neighborhoods, especially on hillsides.”

Volunteers are still welcome to start teams to join existing teams in their neighborhoods. More information is at the event’s website.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: