A flash mob of volunteers from St. Petersburg College and Duke Energy stepped out to make a difference in downtown St. Petersburg April 6. Once each semester students, staff, and faculty from SPC Downtown team up with employees of the energy company to participate in the flash mob cleanup.
The flash mob cleanup this month also helps mark Earth Day. Set for April 22, it’s a day to demonstrate support for environmental protection.
Flash Mob Cleanup rules, contest
The flash mob cleanup is a simple and fun event. Volunteers are teamed into small groups and given gloves, a brief lecture on hydration, and basic rules for pick up. Each team is handed a black and a white garbage bag – black for trash to be discarded and white for recyclables. The teams spread out in a circumference of a few city blocks to see what they can collect within 30 minutes.
What some urban dwellers may forget is that garbage takes a while to decompose. According to the website Green Living Tips, organic items like apple cores and banana peels last about a month. Newspapers can take up to six weeks to decompose, while cigarette butts last up to five years. Aluminum cans make it 80 to 200 years. Plastic bottles last about 450 years, and the staying power of glass bottles boggles the mind at a decomposition rate of one million years.
That means trash can build up quickly around the city, if someone doesn’t take the time to clean it up.
Many items are found in the bushes lining the sidewalks, even though recycling and trash bins are located within eyeshot. The goal of a flash mob cleanup is not only to collect these items for recycling programs but to raise awareness.
“What amazed me is that we had five people stop to thank us for what we are doing,” said Heather Disler, Associate Director of Learning Resources for SPC Downtown. “People really seemed to appreciate the effort.”
For added incentive, a contest is held to see who finds the most unusual item during the cleanup. For the Spring 2017 event, prizes were awarded for a giant, 2-foot-long champagne bottle, a 15-foot-long tube of wall filler/tubing, and an artistically decorative cognac bottle. Other contenders included an electric razor with adapter, underwear, two and a half pairs of shoes, an empty wallet, a cell phone, pliers, a coffee cup with coffee still in it, and a blanket.
Tradition of helping St. Petersburg
The SPC Downtown community hopes to continue the tradition, which started as part of a club event three years ago. It was at the first cleanup that Duke Energy administration saw college volunteers and asked to join in. It proved popular with their employees too. Those involved continue doing this, not only because it helps improve the look of the city but because it makes them feel good.
“This isn’t hard,” said one student as she placed her bag into the recycle bin. “In fact, it’s pretty easy. And I feel like I’ve done something to make St. Pete a better place.”