Found on the side of roads, within neighborhoods and all throughout the community, garbage can be seen by Athens residents not ending up in the right places.
Henry LaBelle, an Athens resident, has recently taken the initiative to help combat this issue by spending his personal time cleaning up this out-of-place garbage.
Born in Ventura, Calif., LaBelle has resided in Athens for the past three years. Since moving to Ohio, he has worked a variety of small, odd jobs.
“My occupations have been mushroom farmer, a fry cook at the Dairy Queen, part-time gardener and weeder, busker, musician, among many other odd jobs,” LaBelle said.
LaBelle has always been passionate about the environment, choosing to spend much of his free time outdoors.
“When I was very young, I was very passionate about the environment and the outdoors in nature,” LaBelle said. “I spent most of my time hiking, walking and swimming. I would pick up garbage when I saw it.”
After moving from California, it didn’t take long until LaBelle picked up on the trash problem that littered Athens. Once he noticed how significant this problem was, LaBelle began to do something about it.
“This all really started last year, when I was working on a mushroom farm,” LaBelle said. “On my days off, I would walk down my road, and I would find bags and bags and bags of garbage of various types. It started really getting under my skin.”
LaBelle, along with his girlfriend at the time, would hike down the road for an hour or two and come back with up to 20 to 30 pounds of trash.
“We'd see people that were just on our road. They would just throw all their garbage out of the window and then speed away,” LaBelle said. “That really aggravated me, so it made me want to get out and just start picking it up.”
LaBelle feels whether thrown from cars, dropped by pedestrians or blown around by the wind, scattered trash has contributed to many eyesores around the community.
“I think that there really is a big problem,” Chad Walkins, a first-year master’s student in the clinical mental health counseling program, said. “Anywhere you walk, there are glass bottles that I've seen on the ground. It's trash, and we're considered to have one of the most beautiful campuses in the nation. When I see bottles littering the ground, it ruins it.”
There’s no shortage of what types of trash can be found around town. LaBelle said some of the most popular types of litter he finds are used face masks, soda cans, styrofoam, plastic bottles and even car parts and electronics.
“The most amount of trash comes from roadsides where people are just speeding by, and they just decide that it's not going to hurt anybody if they throw their garbage out of their window,” LaBelle said. “The most important places that I go are lakes and streams deep in the woods, and that's where I find sparse amounts of garbage.”
Alyssa Goodenow, an undecided sophomore, says she sees the most trash under the Richland Avenue bridge.
“I see a lot of beer cans and stuff on campus,” Goodenow said. “But I would say the bridge is definitely where I noticed it the most.”
LaBelle has committed to helping clean up Athens by spending his personal time, almost every day, picking up litter along roads, at parks and on the banks of rivers and ponds. However, LaBelle wants to do more — though he knows it’ll take more than just him to help end this problem.
“As much awareness as I can bring, I want to bring, but I also want to invest in some other method of preventing this from happening, whether it be signage or law changes or education,” LaBelle said.
More signage along with education on the problem seem to be popular ways to help combat the trash issue. Goodenow also wants to improve signage and awareness.
“There's signs everywhere and stuff that say, ‘Keep Columbus clean,’” Goodenow said. “I’m surprised that Athens doesn't have anything like that because I do feel like I see that a lot in cities.”
In addition to picking up trash himself and wanting to bring awareness to the problem, LaBelle has also started a GoFundMe titled “Help Henry Clean Up Athens, Ohio,” with which he looks to raise money to allow him to spend more time picking up trash.
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