The 'garbage guy' walks 12 miles a day around D.C. picking up trash

"I'll pick up pretty much anything."

Most people walk by trash they pass on streets and sidewalks. Some people don't even notice it. Then there's Billy Adams. He not only sees it, he picks it up all of it. Since the spring, the 54-year-old Montgomery County man has spent his daily walks into the District collecting garbage around the city, usually filling at least two trash bags with waste. "It's just something I do," he said. "It's become part of my routine."

He leaves his home, which is just over the D.C. line, about 8:30 a.m., garbage bag in hand, ready for a brisk 12 mile traverse around the city. Typically, he walks down Massachusetts Avenue, then to 14th Street, continually squatting to collect the trash he spots along the way.

Dressed in activewear and tracking his walk on a sports watch, Adams scoops up everything in sight, from plastic water bottles to food wrappers, beer cans and disposable face masks. Lots of masks. "I'll pick up pretty much anything," Adams said. He doesn't wear plastic gloves, he noted, but he washes his hands whenever he stops along the way.

Adams began regularly picking up garbage in June, but his daily walks became a ritual more than a decade ago as part of a rigorous exercise routine. When the pandemic hit, he vowed to continue walking, even though he was working from home and had nowhere to go.

That's when he took note of all the trash, which "really started bothering me," said Adams. So, he grabbed a bag and started gathering garbage. His new ritual, he learned, was immensely satisfying.

"The trash is just out of place; it doesn't belong there. Finishing my projects is definitely rewarding," Adams said, explaining that he often changes his walking paths, which he refers to as his projects, to ensure he covers as many areas around the District as possible. "When you see it beforehand, then you walk by it after and it's all clean, that's a good feeling."

He now associates different areas with specific types of trash. For instance, the Capital Crescent Trail has become a popular exercise site during the pandemic, he explained, so, "you'll always find strawberry banana GU Energy packets and Nature Valley granola bar wrappers there."

Although Adams's customary cleanup which typically takes him about three hours - might be unusual, exercising while picking up trash is actually a trend of sorts. There's a popular Swedish fitness craze that involves collecting trash, called "plogging," a mix of jogging and "plocka upp" - Swedish for pick up. In recent years, plogging groups have popped up around the world, including in the D.C. area. Adams isn't seeking to start a plogging group, he said, but he does encourage friends and family to join him on trash walks.

"People know who he is. They wave at him, they honk at him,". "But he is determined to do it whether people join and support him or not. I'm amazed by his focus and his grit." Adams hopes his trash pickups motivate others to litter less and pick up more. "I hope people see me and go, 'Hey, maybe next time I walk around I'll bring a trash bag and do that, too,' " he said. "The simple act of picking up trash makes a huge difference."

Long Beach Clean Up Crew salutes your efforts Mr. Adams. You are an inspiration to us all. Keep up the good work.

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