San Francisco’s Trash Fighting Citizens
You may have seen Vincent Yuen in your news feed this year, or perhaps even on your street corner wearing a florescent vest. He’s the engine behind San Francisco’s newest trash fighting organization Refuse Refuse SF.
Their mission is simple, inspire San Francisco’s own citizens to help keep their neighborhoods clean by picking up trash together. They don’t ask for money or glory, they ask for a bit of your time and sweat, and the rewards are plain to see.
We had a chance to ask Vincent Yuen a few questions about trash collection in San Francisco, it’s far more interesting than you might initially think, and who doesn’t love a trash-free sidewalk?
BAS: What’s the most common type of trash you pick up in the city?
Vincent Yuen: Cigarette Butts. 35% by count are butts. Other common items include food wrappers and to-go containers, masks, cups and bottles, and some areas are almost guaranteed needles.
Are certain neighborhoods known for certain types of trash?
VY: Bayview is known for illegal dumping. Not only from locals, but many people come into the neighborhood from other places to dump their items. Hayes Valley has a higher percentage of cigarette butts, like 60-70% on some blocks; think hipsters chain-smoking outside of bars. There are a higher percentage of needles in the Tenderloin and SOMA.
What’s the strangest piece of trash you’ve ever picked up?
VY: Nothing really, it’s all trash. We found a pair of skis at Ocean Beach, and this neon-blue plastic Native American figurine stuck in my head as a symbol of the pollution we’ve brought to their land. I’ve found a $50, two $20s, a couple $1s, and a decent amount of loose change, but my hourly is terrible.
How do you convince busy San Franciscans to pick up trash with you?
VY: By demonstrating to them how good it feels to keep a neighborhood clean, and that it doesn’t require that much effort. It may take some more time to binge-watch your favorite shows, but even cleaning 5 minutes a day does wonders for a block. And if enough people did it…
Refuse is using more than just bags and brooms, Vince also told us that this month one of his neighbors brought out a drone with AI mapping technology to help them figure out our routing for trash pickup and to identify illegal dumping sites.
Using AI and Drones to get a birds-eye view of the illegal dumping problem:
Do you guys do fundraisers? How are you funded?
VY: No. I don’t ask people for money, just their time and effort. We do receive in-kind donations from merchants that sponsor food/beverages, and cleaning equipment like trash pickers, safety vests, and plastic rings that hold trash bags open. The Department of Public Works supplies us with tool loans and coordinates pickup of the trash bags. At the beginning of this year, I received funding for 6 months from the ShineOn SF campaign, and I receive that through TogetherSF, which is also a key partner.
Is Refuse Refuse a non-profit?
No, just a citizen’s campaign.