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Ladies' trash collecting group goes after garbage as a hobby

Rebecca Williams
Michigan Radio

When you’re driving around southeast Michigan, you might happen to see three women on the side of the road. They’re all moms, but their kids are grown up. They work part time. They fill their free time by picking up trash... for fun.

"This is a beautiful area, and yet we have piles of garbage there."

Melinda Fons is with her friends Moy Garretson and Karen Rooke in suburban Detroit.

Karen: "Wagons roll!"

They get plastic grabbers and garbage bags out of the trunk. And they head into a little wooded patch next to a busy two-lane road.

Karen Rooke starts on the edges.

"I’ve got some cups, a newspaper and a plastic bag. And a credit card... ooh this is good. I’ll take that to the police."

The three women crawl under trees and into bushes to get the trash. There’s a pile of Styrofoam peanuts, empty rum bottles, a tire... and two more credit cards.

Karen: "I picked up 20 vodka bottles once and Listerine. I think it’s the kids that go drink down there. It’s just a quiet road, and have the Listerine so their parents – they think - don’t know. We were young once too!"

Melinda Fons admits she’s a little bit obsessed with picking up garbage. She says when her kids were young, they’d get embarrassed.

"They would say, 'Mom, you don’t have to pick up garbage everywhere.' But it was so easy to do, you just stroll over to the garbage can and deal with it."

She points out that trash can hurt wildlife, and she says she just can’t stand to see a place messed up.

"I was taught that if you go into an area, don’t leave anything there that wasn’t there when you got there. I would like that same kind of reverence, you know, to be everywhere."

Fons says she started by just picking up garbage on her walks around her neighborhood. Then she started roping her friends into it. Sometimes they’ll even scramble up hills to clean up trash on highway interchanges.

Moy Garretson says you do have to get used to people staring at you.

"People look at us like we’re crazy, like maybe we’re doing some weekend community service. I’ve had girlfriends yell out the window and say, ‘Great job!’ But we don’t see them out here."

After an hour, they call it quits.

They head to the police station to turn in the credit cards. At an intersection, a guy in a leather jacket pulls up next to the car.

Moy: "If that guy throws that cigarette butt out we’re chasing him."

They laugh until the guy rolls his window down and flicks the cigarette out.

"Oooh, did you see what he did? Naughty!"

The women stop one more time to pick up a stray water bottle on the side of the road, and then it’s back to Melinda Fons’ house to unload the six big bags of trash.

Karen Rooke says she and her friends have a great time hunting for trash, but they can only tackle one corner of the state.

"If more people do it, it won’t take long to get everything shipshape, in Bristol fashion," she said.

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.