More than just a walk: Retired couple makes a big dent in litter

Ed and Chris Stried of Janesville have walked outside every day beginning March 24 to get exercise during this new age of COVID-19. As they walk, they pick up trash. Earlier this month, they estimated they had cleaned up 10,000 pieces of litter. (Anthony Wahl/The Janesville Gazette via AP)

JANESVILLE, Wis. — Retired teachers Ed and Chris Stried found a simple way to stay fit when the coronavirus ended their normal workouts earlier this year.

On March 24, they bundled up and set out from their Janesville home on South Harmony Drive for their first daily walk.

Early on, they noticed trash — lots of it.

Soon they began picking up litter, including protective face masks, latex gloves and bottles of hand sanitizer.

They also found plenty of beer and soda cans, small liquor bottles, fast-food paper and plastic, candy wrappers, and vaping equipment.

Ed and Chris Stried of Janesville have walked outside every day since March 24 to get exercise. As they walk, they pick up trash, including this plastic bottle. (Anthony Wahl/The Janesville Gazette via AP)

To protect themselves, the Strieds wear washable or disposable gloves and use “one of those dorky grabbers, which I think I inherited from my mother,” Ed told The Janesville Gazette.

On July 4, when they took their 100th walk, they estimated they had picked up 10,000 pieces of litter.

“Every once in a while I would count the pieces because I was curious,” Ed said. “On some days, there were more than 200. I was amazed at the number.”

The amount also surprised Chris.

“How can we as citizens get rid of our trash that way?” she asked. “You wonder what goes through people’s minds when they throw their stuff out the window.”

But rather than complain, the couple decided not to berate people for spoiling the landscape.

Instead, they channeled their concern into action.

“Our attitude is that we won’t solve the problem,”

Ed said. “But we can do something.”

They hope others will follow their example.

“Give it a try,” Ed said. “We’ll never live in a litter-free world, but let’s see what we can do to improve the one we have.”

Combine walking with picking up trash, and the results are better health and a cleaner neighborhood.

“It’s a win-win situation,” Ed said.

The Strieds carry a reusable cotton bag or two, which can be washed, and often dump the litter they find in a trash receptacle along their route. Sometimes, they collect another bag or two before returning home.

Their daily cleanup effort has reached beyond their neighborhood.

“In more than 100 walks, we have never taken the same route twice,” Ed said. “We’re always looking for a street we never have been down before.”

The Strieds have driven to different parts of Janesville to walk and have even scoured for trash on hikes in Milton, Clinton, Brodhead and Lake Mills.

Sometimes, they stride along the wooded trail near the Rock River in Riverside Park.

“Every once in a while, we will come across a street I never heard of before,” Ed said. “There’s always something interesting when you are out walking.”

Chris has noted various home improvement projects, including landscaping and new roofs, along the way.

“We’ve also gotten to know some people,” she said. “They come out and chat with us about their projects. It’s kind of nice. We are looking for a little social contact.”

Chris taught Spanish for many years and discovered the joy of art after retirement. She works in watercolors, pastels and colored pencil.

In addition to walking, she is back with her personal trainer on Zoom and also has done some workout classes online.

Ed taught high school English for 40 years. He goes golfing most afternoons since the courses reopened.

Both continue to walk and don’t see any possibility of running out of trash to pick up anytime soon.

“Some of what we picked up has accumulated over weeks and months,” Ed said. “So we like to think we are seeing some improvement.”

He and Chris believe their action reflects the words of Teddy Roosevelt, who notably said, “Do what you can with what you have where you are.”

“That advice is always worth following,” Ed said. “But it seems particularly apt during this unusual time.”


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