National Cleanup Day is a movement we all need to join

Mark your calendar for Sept. 18. Better yet, stop tossing trash, and start picking up around your neighborhood all the time.

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A city crew works on cleaning up a city-owned lot at 75th and Coles that Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell had written about.

A city crew works on cleaning up a city-owned lot at 75th and Coles that Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell had written about.


On Sept. 18, 2021, organizations and volunteers from coast to coast will come together for National CleanUp Day, focusing on picking up parks, trails, beaches, mountains and open spaces.

National CleanUp Day is all about finding solutions to “litter, trash and ‘free-range plastic,’ ” according to organizers.

That’s a great idea and one that could be expanded to include vacant lots, street corners, yards and doorways of abandoned homes and storefronts.

Unfortunately, while there are people who are sickened by litter, others toss a fast-food bag on the street without a second thought.

I wrote Thursday about a filthy city-owned lot at 75th and Coles, asking: Who should clean it up? Judging from the emails I got, a lot of people seem to think that responsibility falls on residents.

“In my day, we didn’t have Spring Break. We had Cleanup Week. Let’s reinstate that concept! Get a broom and sweep. Hook up the hose and wash off the sidewalk and curbs! Don’t be a litterbug ... throw your mask in the can!” Christine Speiser wrote.

That’s pretty old-school, but I love it.

My father made full use of cleanup week. He handed us a bucket, some rags, a mop and a broom, and we were expected to clean every inch of our public housing apartment, including scrubbing the cinderblock walls.

The city once used public service announcements to remind people not to litter. We need to bring those back. If you drive under any one of the city’s many viaducts, you can see the problem.

“I have lived in the city for 36 years ... and have never seen so much garbage everywhere. It’s not just that it never seems like anyone is picking it up from the city, but more and more I see people just toss garbage out their car window. ... I know Mayor Lightfoot has her agenda full with shootings and COVID, but it would be so easy for city residents to get behind her if she would pursue a clean up our city campaign,” wrote Chris Ford, a residential sales broker.

Other readers took me to task for not following my inclination to clean up the litter during my morning walks.

“You say you ‘wanted’ to grab a trash bag,” wrote Tony Carrollo, who lived in Chicago for 34 years before moving to Cape Canaveral, Florida. “I walk the ocean beach most early mornings. About a dozen of us bring bags and pick up trash. Next day, similar trash is there. We pick that up. We could easily say ‘what’s the use.’ We don’t as it’s our civic duty to chip in.”

“When I walk my dog I carry three bags — one for the obvious and the other two for garbage,” Georgiana Srachta wrote. “It makes me feel better even when I have to do it again day after day. And this is in the supposedly upscale suburbs.”

After I complained to Ald. Gregory Mitchell (7th) and to the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation about the filthy lot at 75th and Coles, a crew showed up the next day.

But as a resident of the 7th Ward, I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that the people who live here are doing nothing. My neighbors, under the alderman’s leadership — and, no, he’s no relation — routinely volunteer to pick up trash along 75th Street starting at South Shore Drive.

We are not lazy.

But, as taxpayers, we deserve the same level of city services that other taxpayers are receiving. A city-owned lot should not look like a garbage dump. It sets a terrible example and sends the message that no one cares.

We might not be able to control what goes on in the streets. But we can control what those streets look like, right?

To sign up for National CleanUp Day, go to

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