It’s 8 a.m. on a Saturday, and most students are busy sleeping off the night before. Perhaps some earlier risers have already occupied Colorado Coffee, but Beth, an employee at local charity organization Keep Colorado Springs Beautiful, is already up and moving picking up trash along Wahsatch Street.
Every Saturday and Sunday, Beth and another volunteer clean up the solo cups, beer cans, and any other trash left out on the lawns of fraternity houses and residents of Colorado Springs.
“It’s been years and years since the college first contacted us,” said Dee Cunningham, the Executive Director of the charity organization Keep Colorado Springs Beautiful. “There were a lot of neighborhood complaints around the fraternity and sorority houses… and they asked if we would come in Saturday morning or Sunday morning really early to get [things] cleaned up.”
Keep Colorado Springs Beautiful also cleans up the streets where students live off campus. Nevada and Wahsatch typically have the most trash, and Weber rarely has much of a problem. On Saturdays and Sundays KCSB typically fills two-to-four 45-gallon bags with trash.
While this doesn’t seem like a lot at first glance, these bags stretch to fit so much trash that they can’t be moved easily at all. Usually, Beth has to fill one at a time and leave them on the street corners to be picked up and disposed of on her way out. When between 90 and 180 gallons of trash is produced every day of every weekend, it adds up to an alarming amount of garbage.
Efforts to make houses be more responsible with their trash have been met with varying levels of success. One problem is the issue of wind, which blows the garbage out of the responsible person’s yard and into the street or a neighbor’s yard. This is a huge issue around the senior cottages, whose trash inevitably ends up scattered all over Yampa.
“We recommended putting trash cans on the porch, so the garbage doesn’t blow away,” said Cunningham. “Less to track down that way.
Trash isn’t the only thing KCSB’s volunteers find scattered around front yards. Dee estimates that since they’ve begun weekend clean ups they’ve found “more than 100 cellphones,” along with car keys, jackets, wallets, and the like.
One time, they even found a backpack filled with books, a computer, and a passport. Everything they find, they pass along to the Worner desk with the hopes that it will eventually make its way back to the owner. Sometimes they even find people.
“One time [Beth] found a young man who had fallen asleep halfway inside his car,” said Cunningham. “We go beyond just picking up cups.”
Keep Colorado Springs Beautiful does a lot more than just pick up after Colorado College students. As the local affiliate of Keep America Beautiful within Colorado Springs, KCSB is very active within the community. Dee and her organization facilitate a variety of events to help the city they love. They do workshops to help teach kids the value of reusing and recycling, and several pieces of art made from discarded goods line the walls in their home office.
“You can make anything out of anything,” said Cunningham, gesturing to a framed flag of Colorado painted onto several slats of cardboard. “Every piece of that came from a dumpster, and we’ve been offered a thousand dollars for it.”
They also employ approximately 95 percent of the city of Colorado Springs municipal court-ordered individuals. Just about anyone within the city of Colorado Springs who gets a speeding ticket they cannot afford to pay off or needs to perform community service as part of their sentence can work with Cunningham and her team.
Their labor goes a long way to care for the city and they are involved in almost every big event that Colorado Springs plans. They help keep trash in control during the city’s big July 4 celebrations, as well as the Labor Day Lift Off, and Territory Days during Memorial Day weekend. Just last Saturday they picked up along the route of the festival of lights parade, making sure every street from Tejon to Rio Grande was clean.
Their focus, as always falls in line with their mission statement of “[elevating] the spirit and [improving] lives through the care and beautification of Colorado Springs.” They work hard for the city and the citizen, and despite the never-ending flow of trash they don’t feel sore about it.
“We love doing it, but it’s not the easiest job to do,” said Cunningham. “We work really hard to make it [look] good. The neighbors are very appreciative.”
Not only do the neighbors appreciate it, but also the volunteers gain new perspective into just how inconvenient littering is. It is one thing to flick a cigarette butt and keep walking, it’s another thing entirely to have to pick up every flicked butt on Main Street.
“We reach so many people just with our restorative justice system,” said Cunningham. “People go out and pick up trash all day and say I am never going to throw out anything again. I am never going to throw a cigarette on the ground again.”
Because KCSB does the cleaning for the institution’s off-campus housing, they are quick to acknowledge that the state of litter on streets from Weber to Wahsatch has improved greatly in the last three years.
“Last year was horrendous. I mean HORRENDOUS!” said Cunningham. “The year before that was even worse.”
Despite the improvements, most students are entirely unaware of KCSB’s involvement on campus.
“I talk about [KCSB] in my off-campus workshop I give to juniors, and they just can’t believe it,” said Zach Kroger, the Residential Life and Activities Program Coordinator. “[We] pay them $5200 a year. That is essentially paid for by the students out of their campus activities fees.”
While the amount of money isn’t jaw dropping, it is a little hypocritical when considering the importance that Colorado College puts on environmentalism and recycling. We emphasize the individual responsibility to compost and recycle campus wide, and we greet every freshman that is accepted with a video about plans for a carbon neutral campus. Yet, we produce so much loose trash every weekend it can’t even be contained to our front yards.
Considering the emphasis on personal accountability in relation to environmentalism, it is surprising that students don’t help with this issue. Originally that was what Cunningham envisioned for this program: students with disciplinary issues cleaning up the street in the mornings as a way of reconciliation.
Not only would this put some of the responsibility for pollution back in the hands of the student, it would also give them some awareness into just how inconvenient littering is, just like the people in KCSB’s restorative justice program.
“[You’d be asked] to go out and give back to your community in a positive way” said Cunningham. “It’s only two to three hours in the morning, and once you’re out there in the fresh air and the neighbors start thanking you, the awareness comes about that oh, this is really appreciated.”