In a viral video, Daniel Toben stands waist deep in a stream full of plastic bottles, soccer balls, cans and other trash — yet he has a smile on his face.
“I clean up the planet and I hope that you might watch and enjoy this time lapse,” Daniel Toben says in thel TikTok video that features him filling up bag after bag to clean up that stream.
Toben has made it his mission to beautify the planet by collecting trash from highways, parks and streams.
“In an average week, it’s usually two cleanups,” he told Indy Week. “I’ve been doing it for long enough that people email me, or text, or message me on Facebook, and tell me where I need to go and clean up.”
He said it all started when he discovered a waste-ridden stream close to his dorm at N.C. State more than a decade ago.
“I found this stream on campus that was filled with plastic bottles, and it was depressing. It was such a disrespect to the environment,” he told Indy Week. “I cleaned it up in secret and kept it from people, and it was kind of my sanctuary.”
Now, he says, cleaning up has just become part of his personality. He’s picked up more than 8 million pieces of trash, filling more than 8,300 bags. He even manages a Patreon account where people can help fund more trash bags.
Not only has Toben become a viral sensation for his clean up work, but he has inspired others to take action as well. He tells CBS17 that a number of people have reached out to him, wanting to join in.
Litter, especially plastic, is becoming a growing problem for Planet Earth. Eight million tons of plastic waste alone find their way into the world’s oceans each year. In addition to being unsightly, this trash can spread diseases, viruses and parasites to people through direct and indirect contact.
This litter is also costly. Highway trash, for instance, must be picked up daily to keep drivers safe. This diverts resources from other projects like road repair, according to Texas Disposal Systems. Keep America Beautiful estimates that the U.S. throws $11.5 billion each year toward litter clean up. A 2009 survey from the organization also revealed that litter can negatively affect house property values and a business’ decision to locate into a community.
And then there are the environmental consequences. Litter can entangle or strangle animals, and it is sometimes also consumed by them as micro plastics. Millions of animals die each year as a result of consuming harmful objects or becoming entangled in litter.
Although it would be best if all of this litter were never produced in the first place, the next best thing is getting out there and cleaning it up. Not only is Toben’s work benefiting the environment, our health and pocketbooks, it’s actually pretty fun too, he says.
“It’s literally an activity that you don’t think about while you’re doing it, it’s like a really good time to be in a creative space and think about anything,” he tells USC StorySpace.
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