“Through the astounding amount of trash picked up with the Garbage Olympics over the course of only 2 hours every year, we've been able to make the case to local government that this is a problem that needs more resources, more personnel, more everything for the quality of life of Pittsburgh residents,” says Christopher B. Mitchell, who works for Pittsburgh’s Department of Public Works.
Over 20 neighborhoods around Pittsburgh are currently registered for the Garbage Olympics, and more are welcome to join. If a neighborhood is not currently listed, the volunteer who registers will be the captain and point of contact of the team.
The Garbage Olympics begins at 9 a.m. on Sept. 18 and will end at 11 a.m., giving teams two hours to collect as much garbage as they can around their respective neighborhoods. Teams can be as little as one volunteer or hundreds of volunteers representing their neighborhood — the Garbage Olympics said there is no size limit for teams.
“If you ever wanted to show-up one of the neighborhoods next door, this is your best chance to prove it to them,” Mitchell says.
When the trash collecting period is over, the teams will meet at Threadbare Cider House in the North Side for a closing ceremony where the neighborhood team who collected the most trash will be announced. The winning neighborhood receives a recycled trophy from a thrift shop showcasing the icon of garbage: Oscar the Grouch.
The Garbage Olympics began in 2017 by Pittsburgh locals Renee Robinson, Alicia Carberry, and Lena Andrews as a fun and competitive way for neighborhoods around the city to keep their areas clean, according to their website.
The annual event was awarded the Neighborhood Image Award at Neighborhood Allies’ Healthy Neighborhood in 2019.
“Each act of cleaning up litter isn't just one action. It accomplished dozens of things, every single time,” says Mitchell. “It raises pride in your community. It makes your community safer. It makes your community stronger. It makes the land and water around you less poisonous. It discourages further littering by keeping it clean in the first place.”
The event has grown each year beginning with five East End neighborhoods competing in their first Olympics in 2017 to 34 neighborhoods in their 2020 event. In the most recent Garbage Olympics in 2020, the teams accumulated almost 1,000 pounds of trash in one day.
Garbage Olympics: Sat., Sept. 18. 9-11 a.m. Register at pghgo.org