Alex Roginski cruises down University Avenue with his trash picker-upper and Jack Russell terrier, Ollie, in tow.
Roginski, 18, began collecting litter along the streets of his Nealon Park neighborhood in May following the shelter-in-place order. He's since tackled other parts of Menlo Park and Redwood City, on what are usually daily two-hour trash pickups, by bike. He attached a trailer to the back of his road bike to hold a trash bin and the dog.
"I like finding a really dirty street and cleaning it," said Roginski, who graduated from Menlo-Atherton High School last spring. "What I realize is the routes I cleaned a few weeks back are still pretty clean. ... It feels like the right thing to do. I have the ability and there's an obvious problem out there that people seem to be neglecting."
Now, as he spends what would have been his fall semester at University of California at Santa Barbara at home in Menlo Park doing distance learning, he is finding his trash collection project rewarding.
"Sometimes I see a plastic bag flying down the street and I say, 'I'm going to get that,'" said Roginski, a data science and statistics major. He changes up his trash pickup route and cleans up different streets each day.
He collects about three bags worth of trash daily and empties the litter in public trash bins. He reuses the trash bags. "Why waste them?" he said.
Roginski said he has found "so much weird stuff" during his trash pickups. A Playboy beanie, an unopened beer, single gloves and a Sacred Heart Prep hat are among the items he has found. (He plans to post some of these usable items on Nextdoor.)
"I found a plastic goat just chilling on the road," he said.
He was out of commission for a few days after breaking his trash picker-upper while biking 15 mph collecting trash. He sticks to about 5 mph now when he doesn't hop off his bike to pick up litter or walk Ollie.
To keep himself entertained, he listens to podcasts while biking. Currently on his playlist is "On Purpose" by a former Buddhist monk.
He has gotten a few smiles and a "thanks," from passersby, he said. This stands in contrast to his experience as a remote college student.
"I initially thought college would be really fun," he said. "I would be in Santa Barbara on a beautiful campus, but that never happened. What actually happened is there is no way to really connect with other students right now. It's a little lonely. I leave a Zoom call and feel like, 'Damn, I was just with some robots' — people were muted and their cameras were off."