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San Diego man is hoping to create positive ripples by making it easier to clean up parks

The spark for retired science teacher Gary Blume to start a volunteer trash pickup program came simply.

On a stroll through Liberty Station Park in San Diego in 2017, the bearded and bespectacled Blume saw garbage strewn about. It marred his mood.

“Seeing the litter kind of brought me down,” Blume said with smiling eyes during a recent walk through Allied Gardens Community Park. ”And then I just had the thought that I'm going to pick it up and throw it away and that made me feel better.”


When another person witnessed Blume’s civic act borne of frustration, and acknowledged it by thanking him, a seedling of an idea emerged.

“I realized that for them to thank me means they felt really good, which made me feel even better,” Blume said. “That's when this whole thing came together.”

The experience motivated Blume to start the Total Altruism Project, which encourages people at San Diego parks to pick up trash by placing litter grabbing sticks near garbage cans.

“A person, if they're walking in the park, can pick up one of these litter grabbing tools, pick up litter and put it in the net,” Blume said. “When they come to a trash can, they can deposit it.”

But probe a little deeper with Blume and the complexity surfaces. He reveals that the idea to encourage people to voluntarily remove litter from parks emerged just as he came to terms with a sometimes challenging relationship with his parents.


“I was looking at gratitude, and everything happens for a reason and following my heart, that's what I did,” Blume said. “And there has not been one barrier on this whole project. Doors opened.”

Today, Blume has trash grabbers in four San Diego parks and has grand visions for the project.

“What I'm hoping is that word will get out and a large corporation will want to associate themselves with me and help me spread it throughout California, the U.S., and eventually the world,” Blume said. “I want people to realize that an individual person can really make an impact on the world by following their heart and doing good things. The smallest act of kindness, picking up a piece of litter, is having a ripple effect.”

He conceded that there are some people who are reluctant to pick up other people’s trash. But he adds there are many more who have “their heart in the right place.” Blume said as many as 15 groups have used the trash grabbers in one park in one day.

He himself still volunteers to remove garbage from parks, while he visits the spaces twice a week to make sure the trash grabbing tools are in place and working.

“It'd look pretty bad if I'm in charge of this and I pass the litter up,” he said.

He still feels the same excitement he did when he first started the Total Altruism Project.

 “I get goosebumps all the time from just talking about it,” he said.

These days he even ponders how the trash ended up in the parks he visits.

“Sometimes when you go through a field like this and you find a bandage or a hair tie, and you kind of wonder, you know, what athlete was here and what happened to loosen it,” Blume said. “But it’s still litter.”