Community Spotlights

Brad Maule, One Man’s Trash Project

by SJ Punderson on November 16, 2015

The Fairmount Park Conservancy works collaboratively with outstanding community members through projects in Philadelphia’s network of parks. Together, we are maintaining and transforming neighborhood green spaces into community assets. What follows is part one of a two part interview with Brad Maule of One Man’s Trash and the Fairmount Park Conservancy’s SJ Punderson.

Bradley Maule, 38 year-old Mt. Airy resident, went into the woods and picked up trash deliberately for one year. “Litter has always been my biggest complaint with Philadelphia; It bothers me,” Maule said. “Especially in natural spaces. The natural world is so important to escape the rigors of the city streets. To see litter on the ground in a city park, especially as beautiful as the Wissahickon, is just wrong.”

Maule embarked on a project called One Man’s Trash, in which he hiked for 2-3 hours once a week in the Wissahickon section of Fairmount Park, for the entirety of 2014. In total, Maule estimates that he spent 220 hours collecting and cataloguing trash. He visited the folks at the Fairmount Park Conservancy, hiking up 16 flights of stairs (just kidding, he used the elevator) to talk with SJ Punderson about his experience as Philly’s ambassador de trash.

How did you come up with the idea for One Man’s Trash?

I moved back to Philadelphia from Portland, Oregon two years ago, a city that is very clean. You just don’t see litter there. The Columbia Gorge, Mount Hood, they’re just really clean. Coming back to Philadelphia, my priorities were arranged in a way that made me want to be closer to nature. I chose Mt. Airy, which has a Portland vibe to it. I thought if I was moving here to be in the Wissahickon as much as possible, instead of complaining about the litter, I could find a way to do something about it.

How do you make a living?

I’m a full-time freelancer, I write, take photos, etc. Hidden City has been a large part of what I’ve done since I’ve been back. I’ve written for architecture firms and developers.

Your work was displayed in an exhibit at the Fairmount Water Works Museum, what did that entail?

I wanted people to really be impacted by all the trash I had picked up. The trash was displayed in large, clear plastic trash bags hanging from the ceiling. Plastic bottles, metal cans, styrofoam, glass, candy wrappers, chip bags, blunt wrappers, coffee lids, Solo cups, grocery bags, fishing objects, mylar balloons. I had wall panels with information about littering, water and watersheds, dogs, statistics, all kinds of trash-related topics. I liked the prospect of learning about our “throwaway consumption”, to see exactly what it is we’re throwing out and on how frequent a basis.

Was anyone else involved?

Sometimes I would have a companion and they would bring a bag (for trash). Dave Bower, the Parks & Rec volunteer coordinator, came out on the last hike with me and brought a trash grabber. I see him as a 64 year-old version of myself. He’s a little bit taller

Do you like going into the park with others?

To be honest, I prefer going into the woods alone.

Did you witness people littering right in front of you while on the hikes?

At Devil’s Pool, I did. The parties are so big there. In the summertime, it’s out of control. There’s nothing you can do, short of getting a gaggle of cops and busting a bunch of people, there’s no way to control it. That goes back to the 70’s when (mayor) Frank Rizzo disbanded the Fairmount Park Guard. He folded them into the larger police department. The Wissahickon borders at least three police precincts. If you’re in the park and something happens, you call 911. It’s a mess. You can trace the origins of this issue back to Rizzo and I think there’s a direct correlation to the amount of litter that can be found in the park now.

How many beer cans did you find?

347. Beer cans didn’t bother me as much as other things. It’s like, ok, kids got together for a party in the woods with a 30 pack of Natty Light and left it there. They are pretty concentrated. What really bothered me were the plastic water bottles.

What’s the problem with plastic water bottles?

When you’re tuned into trash in the woods, it’s so noticeable. People stop at Wawa and get some water to bring into the woods. It’s made with the cheapest plastic and doesn’t ever go away. Most don’t decompose.

How did you organize all the trash you picked up?

Parks & Rec let me store the trash I collected in the WPA shed in the park. That required a little bit of city bureaucracy. I would guess there was an hour each week spent organizing all the trash. Paper, plastic, miscellaneous, balls. I found 53 golf balls. I hiked near Walnut Lane (Golf Course), and apparently there’s a lot of bad shots. In the shed, I had a notebook where I would write everything down. Then I would come home, type it all up and put it on my website. I’m very data driven.

How do you get around?

My preferred method of transportation is Septa. I don’t have a car. I have a bike, but Mt. Airy is really hilly for bikes.

Are dogs allowed to be off leash in the park?

Technically, they’re not. I counted 288 dogs off leash, 148 on leash; 190 bags of dog poop in the woods and 78 piles. I just observed, I didn’t say anything. There was only one confrontation and it was because two dogs attacked me. The dogs were so far ahead of their owner and they didn’t like my trash grabber. I was literally defending myself with the trash grabber.

What’s your favorite part of park?

I’m partial to my local loop. It’s a two hour loop and is kind of a greatest hits of the Wissahickon. Cresheim Valley is really scenic. Devil’s Pool, in spite of the summer chaos, is still awesome. Fingerspan. Livzey House. The Frog Pond along Mt. Airy Ave. I return through Carpenter’s Woods. I don’t take for granted that it is right out my door.

What’s an ideal day for you in the Fairmount Park system?

I did this last year in April. It was the perfect Sunday, 72 degrees, not a cloud in the sky, light breeze. I hiked from Mt. Airy down Carpenter’s Woods, crossed Kitchen’s Lane Bridge, continued on the Roxborough side past Kelpius Cave, went down the 100 steps, crossed the Wiss at Ridge Ave, then took Kelly Drive to the Falls Bridge, MLK Drive was closed to cars because it was Sunday so I kept going all the way down to the Art Museum and then I took the Schuylkill trail to Locust Street. I saw deer in the Wiss, I saw a beaver in the Schuylkill River. It was the golden hour and the art museum was lit up. The trees were in bloom. I got a picture of it. A beaver! I mapped it out at 11.5 miles, it took a full day. It was 8 p.m. when I got to Locust. I drove home with Liz, she met me downtown.

One Man’s Trash was on display at the Fairmount Water Works Museum (640 Water Works Drive, Philadelphia, PA 19130) last spring.