'Pick Up America': Removing Litter from Coast-To-Coast

In a year and a half 'Pick Up America' has collected 132,000 pounds of garbage.

ByABC News
September 16, 2011, 12:39 PM

Sept. 16, 2011 -- This is not your typical cross country road trip, it's a campaign to clean up the sides of American roads one piece of trash at a time. Pick Up America is the brainchild of 25-year-old Jeff Chen and 26-year-old Davey Rogner who are self-proclaimed "pick up artists."

"The mission of Pick Up America is to walk across America and pick up trash along the whole route and inspire a transition to zero waste," said Rogner.

"No one wants to see trash in their communities so that's sort of our rallying point," Chen told ABC News. "Trash is a connecting point in all of our communities."

This connecting point that helps them recruit volunteers along the way and once they start it can be infectious.

Alexander Kapin, a 51-year-old Russian intern, enjoyed the experience so much he joined Chen and Rogner on the ride. Their road tripping vehicle of choice and headquarters on wheels is a school bus that runs off used vegetable oil. It is outfitted with six bunk beds, a couch and a working kitchen.

Along the way, they speak at schools and stage public demonstrations to raise awareness. In West Virginia they brought 1,600 pounds of recycled trash collected from the state's roads to the capitol.

"We really try ... to get the word out," said Chen. "If we don't do other education programs ... it's not worth it, the trash is going to come back."

It's slow work, 12-hour days picking up everything from bottles and cans to tires and newspapers. The trip is funded through donations and any money they are able to make from recycling.

On an average day Chen and Rogner said they fill a trash bag about every 40 feet. And those bags add up, in a year and a half they have collected 132,000 pounds of garbage.

As with any roadtrip, it's about exploring different parts of the country, but for Pick Up America it's a country seen through the window of human consumption and purchasing patterns.

"Baltimore, there was a lot of liquor ... you notice these trends," said Chen. "The Eastern Shore of Maryland is always going to be known to us as the home of Natty Light drinkers. The Western Shore of Maryland is ... Bud Light drinkers."

"You notice people drink lots of Pepsi and Coke products," Rogner told ABC News. "In Virginia, it's all Mountain Dew, that continued pretty much through Ohio."

But as they continue their cross country mission, picking up whatever they can, they realize it's a journey that says just as much about them as what it does about other people.

"If you're going to push for change, of course you're going to be disappointed," said Chen. "Us youth have to make a statement, this is going to be where we live when we grow up. If we want a good place to live, we got to get our hands dirty. So, in my eyes this journey is never-ending."