Take a walk through Mandan Park, and you might see Steve Bolgar, local neighborhood association president and Keep Omaha Beautiful (KOB) volunteer, picking up litter. He’s been caring for his South Omaha neighborhood since 2018, removing nearly 700 dumped tires and hundreds of bags of trash during this tenure.
Travel 20 miles west to the West Papio Trail, where you might meet the Mahoney family, who’ve conducted “Adopt-a-spot” cleanups here since 2019. Monthly cleanup responsibilities have been passed on from sibling to sibling every year and now lie with the youngest, Riley.
Neighborhood cleanups greatly benefit you and our community, whether it’s one person picking up one piece of trash or a citywide effort collecting one hundred tons.
Good for Neighbors, Good for the Environment
Cleanups can take different forms, but the simple act of removing litter contributes to healthy, thriving neighborhoods. Litter, whether it happens intentionally or unintentionally, has negative consequences for our community and the environment. Littering and illegal dumping contribute to air, land, and water pollution.
Fortunately, Omaha has many resources to reduce the negative consequences of litter, including a growing number of organizations and active residents who regularly pitch in to clean it up.
Bolgar dedicates a few hours a month to care for the natural areas in and around Mandan Park. “I first got involved because there was a shooting and dumping right behind our house, and we were concerned,” he explains. “I grew up next to the park, and my friends and I would play there all the time. The park was a good outlet that kept people out of trouble, and I wanted to maintain it.”
Individual Actions Have Collective Impact
Anyone can do something extraordinary for the environment by simply picking up a few pieces of litter. If you also encourage family members, friends, or neighbors to join you, your individual actions quickly have a much more significant collective impact.
“I continue to be impressed by the impact one person can make when mobilizing others toward a common goal,” says Nicole Partusch, KOB’s community engagement manager, who helps coordinate over 5,000 cleanup volunteers every year. “Coming together for a cleanup strengthens our sense of community because we meet others with shared values, learn about neighborhood resources, and do a fulfilling activity together.”
Jerry Boganowski is part of a group that hosts monthly cleanups to care for Miguel Keith Park. “It’s rewarding when you see an area or a space that everybody uses and know you can have an impact and make it better,” he says. “We clean up our park so it’s a nicer place for kids, and it’s a way to give back to the community. We’re all in this together.”
The Personal Benefits of Picking Up
Taking responsibility for cleaning up litter not only contributes to the collective good – it also feels good! Studies show that doing a community service project has many benefits, including:
1. Positive role models – Seeing others collecting litter encourages us to be responsible for our own waste disposal
2. Make new friends – Volunteering with a group helps expand your network, especially if you are new to an area. Shared activities are a great way to meet your neighbors
3. Connect to your community – Helping clean up in even a small way benefits people, wildlife, and our shared green spaces and makes our community a better place
4. Find satisfaction in helping others – Engaging in a purposeful activity boosts confidence as well as mental and physical health
Neighborhood Cleanup Events
Each spring and fall, the City of Omaha partners with local neighborhood groups to host the Omaha Spring and Fall Cleanup events. During these events, free drop-off sites throughout the city allow residents to dispose of large, bulky items not collected through curbside services, such as old furniture, appliances, tires, mattresses, and more.
The 2023 Fall Cleanup event is happening on Saturdays in October, from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. each week. Visit Cleanup.Wasteline.org to learn more.
The 2023 Omaha Spring Cleanup event helped collect 706.67 tons of bulky waste, 45.73 tons of tires, and 28.1 tons of appliances. Bolgar coordinates one of the neighborhood sites and is proud of these events’ impact. “I think it helps the whole city,” he says. “The more chances people can get rid of something big, the less likely they’ll dump it.”
KOB’s communications coordinator, Maddy Wahl says she frequently hears of neighbors helping neighbors during the City’s Cleanup events. “One couple picked up abandoned tires from around their neighborhood, and another man used his truck to take his elderly neighbors’ items and a dumped couch. We hear many heartwarming examples of people looking out for their neighborhoods,” she says.
Ways to Get Involved
1. Clean up on your own: All you need are gloves and a bucket or reusable bag! “Cleaning up takes very little time,” Bolgar shares. “Walking the sidewalks near your house takes a few minutes, so it’s not a huge commitment. I go out as much as my knee will let me, but even a monthly cleanup makes a big impact.”
2. Volunteer as a group: Get involved with local organizations that help coordinate volunteer cleanups. Contact Keep Omaha Beautiful to schedule a cleanup for a public park, neighborhood, or other public space, or find similar opportunities with Blue Bucket Project, Volunteer in Parks, and Global Leadership Group.
3. Host a community event: Coordinate a neighborhood cleanup that is open to the public. KOB offers supplies and marketing resources to help you plan and execute an awesome cleanup event with your neighbors and community members.
4. Participate in Omaha Spring or Fall Cleanup Events: Responsibly dispose of bulky items at a site near you. Join other neighborhood groups to assist or host a future Omaha Cleanup Site by emailing the City of Omaha.
We hope this article inspires everyone to realize you can make a difference by taking one small action. None of us can solve all the problems at once, but we can do what’s feasible, starting with what’s right in front of us. In the words of Zero-Waste Chef Anne Marie Bonneau, “We don’t need a handful of people doing [it] perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
This blog was written by Maddy Wahl & Nicole Partusch, staff members at Keep Omaha Beautiful.