Litter-free since 2015: Woodbury man is on a mission to keep parks clean
David Freeman is on a mission to keep the east metro litter free.
Between his full-time job as a machinist and a part-time retail job, the 26-year-old Woodbury resident dedicates his spare time to picking up trash others leave behind in parks and other public places.
"I like helping people, and I want to help the world," said Freeman Friday, after spending the late afternoon picking up a St. Paul park. "I want to have a clean world where we can live happily."
According to the most recent Environmental Protection Agency data, Americans created 254 million tons of waste in 2013 — roughly 4.4 pounds per person each day.
Though recycling and composting also account for that amount, the agency's estimates for a city the size of Woodbury would equal about 300,000 pounds of daily waste.
But not all waste makes it into the garbage or recycling bin.
Freeman said he began picking up litter two years ago after noticing a troubling amount trash dirtying up his favorite hiking trail at Carver Lake Park in Woodbury.
"I started finding more and more," he said. "The next day I was out, I brought a few bags."
Since then, he's cleaned several Woodbury parks and other areas in the east metro.
For those close to Freeman, the task is as much a hobby as his calling.
"It's his way to make a difference for people other than himself," said Chris Dease, a Woodbury High School art teacher and family friend. "He knows people enjoy the parks, and it's nice to see a clean park. That's what he can do to help."
Freeman said he picks up 40 to 50 pounds of trash each time.
Sometimes, he keeps a few items, such as cans from the 1950s and other oddities he stumbles upon while picking up trash.
"He has almost like a time capsule he has in his garage," Dease said. "It's kind of like his own art show."
Sporting a neon shirt and a solid pair of boots, he heads out into the backwoods of parks and near river banks where litter piles up. Trees and shrubs often screen out the litter, "but it's there," Freeman said.
He carries a backpack where he keeps supplies, garbage bags, gloves, a map to check off where he's been and a college-ruled notebook for logging the time he spends cleaning an area.
Freeman refuses cash donations but welcomes donated supplies, such as garbage bags and other tools to help him continue his work.
He also runs the Facebook page "David Freeman Garbage Clean-Up" where he keeps people updated with his work.
He welcomes people who want to help join him.
Last Friday, he decided to clean Swede Hollow Park in St. Paul, a place he'd never cleaned before.
In the wooded areas near the park's trails, he picked up food wrappers, cans and other items that don't find their way into a trash bin.
In his left hand, he carries a standard-sized kitchen garbage bag, as well as a shopping bag that dangles higher up his arm — one for trash, the other for recycling.
"I usually look through this one when I get home," he said of the bag used for recyclables.
Though he typically finds harmless items, he doesn't stray away from picking up broken bottles with sharp edges or other potential hazards. On Friday, he recovered a hypodermic needle, which he wrapped in paper to safely dispose of it later.
"Litter can be dangerous," he said, adding that some litter can have a negative impact on plant and wildlife. "That's part of why I do this."
Within an hour, he amassed three heaping bags of litter, which he offloaded in a trash bin.