One Person Can Make a Gigantic Difference


When I was a sophomore in college, I was overwhelmed to discover lots of litter in a nearby stream that ran parallel to a sidewalk on the way to class. At the time I was looking for a job and was seeking something outdoors. Though it didn't pay, I was soon back by the river with work gloves and a bin (but no bags) to collect cans in quiet by the creek.

I enjoyed the sound of the water and the calm. That day with a large bin not meant to be a trashcan, I carried a couple hundred cans and bottles out of the creek and up the hill to recycle. Each trip up the hill I became less self conscious about how I might look with mud on my shirt and dirty garbage in my arms. That evening when I took my cold shower it reminded me of the physical labor jobs I had held before that were fulfilling and exhausting in all the best ways. 

While on campus, I found another spot that needed cleaning up. This was a patch of woods that has since been cleared for the construction of the Catholic cathedral in Raleigh that once was a meandering Greenway that connected “Main Campus” and “Centennial Campus.” My junior year classes were all on Centennial but I still lived on Main Campus. The woods were full of litter. There were also numerous tires and things along the Greenway.


I spent the next couple months cleaning up a 7 acre patch of woods. It was my getaway and my secret. I would carry every 30 gallon bag of trash to either a neighboring apartment complex or across the road to a campus dumpster.

Having personal space at a very large public university was important to me because I had grown up with nature bordering my neighborhood and school as a kid. Coming from a small school immersed in woods, I craved this time alone in the forest. 


I had adventures no-one would ever know about… Upturning a littered truck tire to see a gigantic hog-nose snake that scared me out of my wits! Sitting by the water to find peace. Playing the part of a school employee (although I stuck out like a sore thumb) to enter the restricted recycling center with tires, batteries and chemicals.

One day, I ended up out of school in Chapel Hill and I had a desire to follow my path in a new way. Long story short, I had cleaned up about 800 trash bags of litter, and I wanted to make it a job that paid. Not like a state employee fixed wage job but that provided something for the entrepreneurial service to our community. This crashed an burned with almost no-one hearing about it but I still felt the same passion and continued cleaning up litter everywhere I went. 


After I moved to my parents farm during a time of transition for them, I noticed a need for litter cleanup on their property, and I did it. Shortly thereafter I noticed it in our neighborhood. I was working for family, and I felt unfulfilled at home. I was invited by my grandmother, a stewardess of nature in her own right, to come stay with her for a couple weeks to be with her and to experience some time where I might be able to recenter in good way.

While hiking in the woods by her home which is on Lake Macintosh in Whitsett, I once again found litter. I was surprised by it, and I was almost glad to see it. See, by this time I had experienced a lot of good memories with litter: returning valuables to owners that had been lost, hearing thank you from hundreds of passersbys, and many more.

When I returned home I got a job, and I thought it was a phase. I worked locally for about 5 years, doing more traditional jobs and had less time to devote to my passion. Last year, with the former number of bags cleaned up totaling 2,250, I cleaned up a beach on Jordan Lake. I took a picture of it, and I was having such a great day that I shared it on Facebook. It was a celebratory day because I had forgotten how fun it could be to clean up a natural space. I remember listening to Odezsa the whole time that day, a band I had yet to ever listen to, and I felt like life was providing deliverance.

After a few hours of work, TB&C community members at the Haw River Clean Up with bags and bags of garbage!

After a few hours of work, TB&C community members at the Haw River Clean Up with bags and bags of garbage!

TB&C community members at the Haw River Clean Up!

TB&C community members at the Haw River Clean Up!

Fast forward again and with the help of volunteers we have now collected 3700 trash bags of litter. We go on cleanups about once a week as a group, and I go about once a week by myself. I visit schools, lead church groups, and engage however I can to help us in society think about protecting the earth for generations downstream. 

If you are interested in joining the team or supporting in other ways, feel free to connect with me on Facebook or Instagram, and stay tuned for what might come. Also if you would like to reach out by phone I am always available to share information about the next cleanup and my number is (919)259-9567.

Daniel Tobin Comment