Some people call me a "scrapper.” Some people call me a "garbage picker.” I call myself “Philly Green Man, Environmental Superhero.”
It’s hard to say exactly where it began. I had what people would consider a respectable job, teaching architecture for nine years with some of the greatest students in Dobbins High School history. But even then I would regularly pick up an interesting piece that I would see in someone’s garbage and bring it home. I pretty much decorated my entire home with these almost-thrown-away gems.
In 2008, like a lot of other people, I felt very inspired by the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama. In particular, when I heard a speech about the green economy, I knew that I wanted to be part of it. The green economy can include a lot of different things: solving energy problems differently or keeping our waterways clean. But more than anything, the green economy should be about reducing waste. One way to do that is by identifying things that people see as trash and turning them into commodities. Since I was already picking things out of the trash periodically anyway, I figured why not go hard and create an enterprise.
There was one more piece to the puzzle. Having traveled to Senegal, West Africa, more than 25 years ago made me realize just how much we have in this country. There are 100 million people right now worldwide who can’t afford footwear. Here in America, there are 2.5 million pairs of footwear purchased every week, and a majority of them are not worn to completion. If I could connect these two facts, I realized it was an opportunity for me to do something to not only make a living, but to be able to provide usable goods to people around the world who would not ordinarily be able to afford them.
So I made up my mind. I was going to “trash pick” to make a difference in the world. Clean up these usable, valuable items, and take them to a flea market and sell them. Sometimes selling them directly to a consumer, but other times selling them in bulk to someone with family in places like Senegal. They send their relatives products, such as shoes, that will be used to start a business.
Picking in the trash gave me freedom from a traditional job, and the freedom to walk Philadelphia’s neighborhoods—not only identifying goods that are thrown away that have value, but to see the many problems in our environment and our city. On my Facebook page, Philly Green Man, I regularly document places that have been forgotten by city officials and interview people in neighborhoods that are regularly inundated with trash that is dumped and then ignored by the city.
So there is much work for Philly Green Man, Environmental Superhero, to do. I don’t mind if other superheroes would like to join me, too. I found my mask in someone’s trash. You would be amazed what people throw away.