At a Democratic club meeting in an affluent Cleveland suburb last fall, Jeff Schlekie rapped. He rapped about picking up litter to an audience of older community members and asked that they clap along to keep the beat. It was a bit of a stretch for the setting, but it was also clearly an act of love. Whispering between the other presenters (mostly candidates running for political office across Cuyahoga County), I asked him why he had come to this suburb to rap about picking up litter. “We’ll go anywhere to reach people,” he explained.
Jeff is an original member and the current executive director of The Litterbugz, an organization dedicated to neighborhood beautification and anti-littering. He uses his music to talk about littering because “it gets people talking, creates action.”
A circle of concerned friends in college began The Litterbugz, and the group has stayed together over the tumultuous ensuing years of starting families and chasing concurrent dreams. Some members have rotated out, of course, but have been replaced by new ones. Several of the original Bugz will be hosting cleanups this year.
Current President Matthew Schmidt finds it a good conversation starter: “I can remember a dozen examples of introducing myself to people. I tell them the three primary things that define me: three years stand-up comedian, insurance professional, and President of the Litterbugz organization. I have had more people ask to ‘please tell me more; expand on this Litterbugz thing you do’ than any of the other hats that I wear.”
The Litterbugz’ vision is to be the most proactive anti-littering action group in Cuyahoga County by 2022. They plan to achieve this by removing all of the litter from the county in one weekend every Spring, then holding consistent clean-ups through the warmer months until the leaves fall.
Through providing community service hours to students and hiring outreach managers in each major city, The Litterbugz aim to be the most proactive anti-littering action group in the entire United States by 2025. A new, full-time Executive Director will be on board at the end of April, helping to further the group’s ambitious goals.
The Litterbugz have a plan for Earth Day 2019 that everyone can join: The Great Cleveland Cleanup, a massive litter collection effort on April 27 and 28, the weekend after Earth Day. They’d like to see all of the litter in Cuyahoga County picked up in one weekend. Matthew realizes that the goal may not be completely achieved this year, but he is inspired by the rise in environmental activism: “Through the internet and technology, we are constantly feeling uplifted by the stories of other organizations around the world that are trying to do their part setting a similar example.”
Right now, about 400 volunteers have committed for this year’s clean up. Matthew says, “This year is definitely on track to be the biggest and most effective year yet.” They’re starting off crews in over 40 meet-up locations around Cleveland.
“We want to ultimately change people’s mindset to do what’s right,” says Matthew. “One of the most important things we can do to sustain and improve our environment is through educating our youth to do what’s right before developing bad littering habits.”
There’s still time to join 2019’s biggest cleanup effort in Cleveland:
- Volunteer in the Great Cleveland Cleanup
- Partner with The Litterbugz
- Participate in any anti-littering social media campaign such as the #trashtag challenge or the Bugz’ #ihatetrash campaign. Take a photo of yourself or your friends and family cleaning up in your neighborhood and share on social media.