LitterRally found a way to make picking up trash fun by turning it into a dance party. On Sunday, June 2, from 3 to 6 p.m., they’ll host their second event in Bushwick. Accompanied by a massive speaker on wheels and a trumpet player, the group will swing its way through Bushwick’s streets, leaving behind a trail of cleanliness.
LitterRally’s founders, Alexa Gantous, Lauren Wood, and Victorien Mulliez, are passionate environmentalists. They wanted to raise awareness and make a positive impact in a light-hearted way. Trash felt like an obvious problem to tackle, because it’s something that everyone is confronted with on a daily basis. It’s tangible and thus easily used as a gateway into a bigger conversation about environmental problems.
“Our friends are very conscious, but trash is never part of what they’re involved in,” said Gantous in a phone interview. “A big part of that is that trash seems like such a ‘task.’ It feels super overwhelming and daunting. So it made sense for this [event] to become an experience that makes it light and manageable.”
Before there was LitterRally, Gantous and Wood organized “plogs”: picking up trash while jogging. “We very quickly realized that people don’t particularly enjoy running or picking up trash,” said Gantous.
Mulliez joined them for a plog and, being a DJ, played music from a little speaker. The atmosphere was instantly better. After the event, Victorien told the women that he’d wanted to get involved in the environmental cause, but didn’t know how to as a musician.
“And then it just came together then and there,” said Gantous. “It just made so much sense.”
So, in May 2019, they organized their first LitterRally, which was held in Bushwick. Along with 50 participants, they started the day with an informative talk and meditation session, filled about 30 bags with trash and recycling, and danced their way to a social gathering.
“It was fun and interesting,” said Gantous. “You’re with an amazing group of people enjoying life. But there were a lot of people there who had never done a pick-up and they were shocked. People kept coming up to us saying ‘Have you seen this? This is so disgusting. I can’t believe this!’”
This weekend’s event will be similar to the first. The main differences are that the talk will be held on a rooftop, a trumpet player will accompany Mulliez’s upbeat house music, and the party will join House of Yes’s Block Party.
The team chose Bushwick as a starting point for their events, because of its big trash problem. Just think about how often you have to hold on to a food wrapper for an awkwardly long time until you finally find a trash can. According to the Department of Sanitation’s Litter Basket Inventory, there are merely 310 trash cans in Bushwick (and only about 170 in Ridgewood). Most of those are on the main streets and near subway stations.
That leaves people who don’t want to hold on to their trash with only one option: to dump it on the street. Stray trash often ends up in the ocean via the city’s sewer system. A lot of this trash is single-use plastic.
“Plastic is a complicated material, especially in terms of the relationship we have with it,” said Gantous. “We’re giving the material seconds of life, and then it goes on and lives forever. Every single piece of plastic that has ever existed, still exists. So it’s really crazy that it’s common in our language to say, ‘I’m throwing this away,’ but no one really stops to ask ‘where is away?’ At the end of the day, away is still here.”
Making people question where “away” is and think about their own consumption patterns is the main goal of the event. Especially because fighting trash can feel hopeless.
“Even when we have gone to pick up trash, the next day you walk out and it’s exactly the same as before,” said Gantous.
The team wants to focus on local events until they figure out the perfect format. Once they’ve found that, they hope people all over the world will use their model locally.
All photos courtesy of Gabriela Molano.
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