Refuse Refuse is a volunteer community effort to keep the city clean, founded by San Francisco resident Vincent Yuen in 2021. In the first two years, the organization removed 526,110 gallons of trash from our neighborhoods.
With a background in sales and marketing, Yuen became a stay-at-home Dad to two young children during the pandemic. Recognizing the need to get them out of the house, he took them for daily walks for exercise and fresh air. After spending time on the streets in his own neighborhood, he realized that refuse was a problem.
Yuen believes that most trash in San Francisco, the second most dense city in the country, is accidental. Litter accumulates when the wind blows pieces away on recycling days, as bins are loaded onto trucks or blow over in the wind. During storms, lids fly open and bins overturn. Door hangers and advertising flyers can be part of the problem. Public trash containers might overflow between scheduled pickups. Deliberate littering is still a factor, however, with the number one culprit being cigarette butts.
The city of Toyko serves as a role model for creating clean cities, and Vincent Yuen took their lessons to heart. People are encouraged to keep things tidy, including annual city-wide clean-ups. Japan teaches its children to keep things tidy. We can do this too, said Vincent. “We take our littered and dirty streets as a given, but it doesn’t have to be this way. By working together, it’s possible to shed the stigma and create a reputation as one of the cleanest cities.”
Vincent started out by purchasing trash grabbers for himself and his family, picking up random pieces of trash on their daily walks. Then he put his marketing background to work, writing and receiving a grant to recruit others to aid in the effort.
By identifying already established organizations doing this type of work, he found a whole network of community groups to form partnerships with. A key ally is San Francisco Public Works, which provides the needed tools and other resources, including gloves, trash grabbers, trash bags, and pickup after a volunteer clean-up.
Today, many other organizations are involved. Some significant partners include Together SF, San Francisco Beautiful, Friends of the Urban Forest, San Francisco Recreation & Parks, and Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, among others. In addition, funding is provided through grants from foundations and corporate sponsorships.
Vincent advises people to find the time to make volunteering part of your life. Be intentional. “We are privileged to live in San Francisco, but what good is privilege if you don’t use it to do good?”
Volunteering with other people has the further benefits of building community, forming new friendships and partnerships, and creating neighborhood pride. If your community is not already part of a beautification effort, start your own by pitching the idea to neighborhood organizations. Or work as a volunteer for Refuse Refuse. Vincent is happy to help by speaking to community groups, by appointment.
For more information about Refuse Refuse, how to volunteer, set up a clean-up effort, and more, check out the website at refuserefuseSF.org.