@GayTrashCleanupCrew Helps Save Austin Green Spaces
Whole Foods millennial and partner inspire Instagrammers to pick up trash
Following her 2016 graduation from Southwestern University in Georgetown, Christine Harbour upgraded Austin from weekend-hangout to second-hometown status. Originally from Houston, Harbour grew up without easy access to natural green spaces, and it was love at first sight when she began to explore the Greenbelt: "Taking myself out of the city for just an hour or two at a time ignited my passion for camping and enjoying green spaces around the country."
Harbour adds, "I'm a strong believer that as humans, we need to take ourselves out of city life from time to time, to help reset your mind. Even though most of the Greenbelt is still nestled within the city, the fact that you can escape those sights and sounds after a short drive and a short walk will always be special to me."
Noticing more and more trash near the Greenbelt trails over time, especially abandoned dog poop, Harbour began picking up regularly: "I was inspired by an Austin Instagram user called @365daysofhiking who made a pact to pick up trash once a day for an entire year," says Harbour. "As soon as I filled my first bag of trash, I decided that social media would be a good place to share it. I wanted everyone to know how easy it was to pick up after yourself, and a full bag of trash from a one-hour hike was a good way to visualize the consequences of littering."
After a post of hers (offering supplies to locals wanting to follow suit) went "viral" in the local Facebook group "DOES THE GREENBELT HAVE WATER," Harbour purchased reusable mesh trash bags and sanitary gloves for more than 10 different group members. Not long after, Harbour and her girlfriend, Sam Kimmel, created a new Instagram handle following a recent #trashtag trend on social media. @GayTrashCleanupCrew is simply "a celebration of being gay and cleaning up the planet," says Harbour. "It's mostly a joke to get people laughing." Going for the gross-out factor, one of their captions reads, "Yesterday's trash haul included a bloody tissue, three bags of dog poop, a pair of men's underwear, and a really nice Nike tennis shoe that was sadly missing its other foot." Other posts highlight the beauty of natural spaces like McKinney Falls, Pedernales Falls, and other nearby hiking destinations. The pair also posts before-and-after pics of heavily
trashed areas, proudly showing their yellow mesh sack with its contents.
"The funniest thing I've ever picked up was a high school student's pile of partially burnt math homework," says Harbour. "I think they took it out to the Greenbelt to set it on fire as a cleansing sort of ritual for the end of the school year. When the paper didn't burn completely, they left the pile of charred remains out on the trail. While it was certainly dangerous to light that fire, especially during the drought, it was a bit entertaining to find the homework remains after the fact."
Working for Whole Foods in software development, Harbour explains that the company mentality of practicing what one preaches influences her life outside of work: "Working for a health food store that boasts organic product selection and community cleanup efforts wouldn't make sense if you didn't also do your personal part to give back to the planet. Because my job involves looking at a screen for 90% of my day, it's extra important to get outside and spend time in green spaces. I don't think I could work in a tech-focused career like this without the ability to step away from all of it completely."
As Harbour and Kimmel chronicle their rounds through places like the Shoal Creek Greenbelt and St. Edward's Park, they hope their limited audience will grow. "A few times when people have passed me with my bag of trash on the trail, they've confused me with a different Instagram trash picker, which is kind of funny," says Harbour. "But it's also encouraging, because it tells me that everyone is seeing the posts and they are engaged with what we are doing."
Though Harbour surely speaks for most millennials when she mentions how daunting it feels to confront making positive change in the world, she is ultimately satisfied if she can leave a green space cleaner than she found it. "When you post on social media, you make other people want to follow in your footsteps," she says. "It's the same way Instagram 'influencers' make you want to live a certain lifestyle – when you see someone doing good around the world, it makes you want to do it, too."