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Pasadena Climate Activist Spends 589 Days Ridding Eaton Canyon of Trash

Published on Tuesday, March 9, 2021 | 5:59 am
Edgar McGregor, 20, finished his 589-day mission ridding the Eaton Canyon Natural Area and Nature Center of trash on March 5, 2021. (Credit: Edgar McGregor)

After 589 days on a one-man mission to clear the Eaton Canyon Natural Area Nature Center of trash, one bucketful at a time, climate activist and student Edgar McGregor was thrilled to discover Friday that there was no more litter to pick up.

Since May 2019, the 20-year-old Pasadena resident has visited the park almost every day with two buckets and a pair of gloves.

A tweet in which McGregor announced reaching his goal to clear the park of rubbish received more than 105,000 “likes” on the social media platform as of Monday.

Renowned youth climate activist Greta Thunberg responded to the effort, replying “Well done and congratulations!!”

McGregor said his routine began with weekly trips to the park on Saturdays.

“I realized if I was going to get the canyon cleaned up, I was going to have to go out every day,” he said.

At the time, however, “I did not expect it to take 85 weeks to finish the job,” McGregor added. “I vastly, vastly underestimated the amount of trash in that park.”

He took a break from the endeavor during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, as there were unanswered questions about whether the virus that causes COVID-19 was capable of surviving on objects, including trash, he said. But once it became clear that was not a concern, he returned to his daily cleanups in earnest, rain or shine.

He estimated that 60% of the trash he had collected was in place before he began, while the remainder was deposited while the effort was underway.

The majority of the trash was dominated by water bottles and beverage cans, McGregor said.

Some of the trash appeared to have been in place for decades, he said. Collected items included a cell phone, a propane heater complete with a propane tank, and a swimming pool chlorine dispenser.

Several old homeless camps needed to be removed, he said. County officials coordinated with McGregor to bring in trucks to remove large items he couldn’t carry out by hand.

And a great deal of the rubbish was strewn deep into the park, away from the main trails, making it harder to access, he said.

By recycling the collected litter, McGregor said he’s made over $400, which he donates to charities or uses to plant trees in Eaton Canyon.

He’s planted 16 western sycamores in the park after noticing a seeming shortage of young trees in the area, he explained. “There’s a frightening lack of young western sycamore in places that don’t have flash flooding.”

McGregor, who recently completed studies at Pasadena City College and plans to study climatology and meteorology at San Jose State University in the fall, said he plans to return to Eaton Canyon several times a week to help ensure the trash doesn’t build up once again.

“Eaton Canyon is beautiful,” he said. Although he enjoys spending time in many of Southern California’s wilderness areas, “None of them compare to Eaton Canyon. It’s like a little piece of Zion right here in our backyard.”

“I love watching our park go through the seasons,” McGregor added.

With rain anticipated on Wednesday, he said he was turning his attention to clearing nearby storm drains, which will ultimately deposit any trash they contain into the park. Monday marked day 592 of the endeavor.

Littering is an unfortunate reality, and McGregor called on parks to employ full-time staff to keep them free from trash. Despite “no littering” signs or threats of fines, “People are just going to litter.”

But for every litterbug out there, there are 10 people who will pick it up, given the tools. “There are more of us than there are of them,” he said.

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