Garbage pick up tongs
Some neighbors call her The Trash Lady, but Jill Pfeiffer prefers “Trashionista.”
Pfeiffer, who lives in the Bay Creek neighborhood off Lakeside Street, began bringing plastic bags on her regular walks and filling them with trash. She then started posting photos of her haul on her personal Facebook page.
Soon, others started doing it and posting about it on Pfeiffer’s Facebook page, telling her she inspired them.
So she started the Facebook group Trash Talkers, which has more than 150 members — about a quarter of them actively picking up trash and posting about it.
“We talk about trash and making less of it, ” Pfeiffer said.
On Saturday, when it seemed like all of Madison was outdoors enjoying the sunny, warm, first day of April, Pfeiffer had a “13-bag day.” She spent the morning with friends collecting trash at Picnic Point, then did the same with her husband, Jacob Pfeiffer, along the train tracks next to John Nolen Drive in their neighborhood.
For an hour in the late afternoon, the whole family worked the Capital City Trail behind Willy Street until they ran out of bags.
“It’s very satisfying, ” Jill Pfeiffer said.
As they walked back to their car, Judah, 7, asked, “What’s the weirdest thing you found?”
Jacob said a bike inner tube. Jill said “a baby diaper with the liquid of 5, 000 years.” Aviva, 11, said, “I found like 100 cigarette butts.”
“Mine was a DVD player, ” Judah said.
Many of the bikers, runners and walkers along the path called out “thank you” when they realized what the Pfeiffers were up to with their garbage bags, pails, and barbecue tongs they call “long tongs.”
Jacob Pfeiffer, a nationally recognized artist, said when he and Jill go on their frequent cleanups along the John Nolen Drive bike path, maybe one in 10 passers-by says thank you. Along the Capital City Trail Saturday, he said, it was more like three in 10.
“There’s an uptick, ” he said. “Maybe it’s the nice weather, or the cute kids with us.”
Jill’s college friend Fred Svensson was instrumental in establishing the Facebook group. He goes out regularly picking up trash in his East Side neighborhood.
One Sunday he walked with a friend from his house behind Woodman’s to the Tip Top Tavern and they wound up collecting seven bags of garbage. They had to stop at a gas station along the way after running out of bags, Svensson said.
“I could tell people were driving by wondering, ‘What are these people doing?’ And then they started smiling. They realize what you are doing. ‘What is this normal guy doing on the side of the road picking up garbage?’ ” said Svensson, who works as a Spanish interpreter in the court system.
Both Svensson and Jill Pfeiffer have blended trash collection into their daily routines.
“With everybody counting their steps these days, it’s so easy to add a bag and some tongs and to pick up a bag or two of diverse garbage, ” Svensson said.
It’s really hard now for her to resist not picking up trash, Jill Pfeiffer said.
“It becomes a little bit of an addiction. It’s everywhere.”
Jill Pfeiffer bikes to her job as development director at Operation Fresh Start on Winnebago Street along the bike path she helped clean Saturday. She picked the area because she knew it was in desperate need.
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Her daughter even picked up a wicker basket Pfeiffer had her eye on for weeks.
On Saturday, Burrito Drive let the Pfeiffers put their trash bags in the restaurant’s dumpster. But otherwise, the family’s trash and recycling containers are always full.
Pfeiffer has always cared about the environment, she said.
Nine years ago, when her daughter was young, and she had some extra time, she wrote a children’s book to teach kids about reducing, reusing and recycling called, “Think Outside the Can.” The intent was to keep trash out of the landfills.
She self-published the book in 2008 and is planning to make it free on April 22 for Earth Day.
She created a PDF, or electronic version, and is encouraging people to share it.
Also an artist, Jill Pfeiffer designed the stickers that are on a number of city parks cans, and say “Show the Lakes Your Love, Pick Up Some Trash.”
One day on her ride to work, she saw a pile of 24 beer cans right at the water’s edge. All it would take is one big storm for all of them to get blown into the lake, she said.
The minute the snow starts to melt, and the winds pick up, trash is everywhere, Pfeiffer said. And she didn’t want to just wait for the paid city staff to go after it.
Plus, picking up garbage just feels good, Pfeiffer said.
“There are so many things we do nowadays where you don’t see the result right away and this is just very direct, ” she said. “There’s a mess. The mess is gone.”