White plastic bags with the word “CARE” spray-painted on the side have popped up along U.S. Highway 101 in Clatsop County.
They all come from one man, Raymond Furr, who since July has dedicated every day to picking up trash on the scenic highway from Coos Bay to Astoria.
With garbage picker and trash bag in hand, Furr bundles the waste he finds for the Oregon Department of Transportation to pick up. His mission to raise awareness about the consequences of litter operates out of one vehicle and donations from inspired onlookers.
“I saw a problem that I didn’t feel anyone else was doing anything about,” said Furr, who also goes by Raymond Block. “It’s been a long, long walk. I’ve never done anything like this. But I wanted to raise awareness and set a precedent to show we are not doing enough soon enough.”
The campaign is a part of Leaven No Trace, a trash collecting group Furr started to empower communities to be accountable for their litter.
Throughout his journey, Furr has filled about 30 to 55 bags of trash a day. On the southern Oregon Coast, it would take about 10 to 20 miles to accumulate that much litter. But as he has moved north through Tillamook and Clatsop counties, it has only taken about 3 to 5 miles of walking to stuff that many bags.
Since starting Leaven No Trace two years ago, Furr and others have gathered more than 100 tons of garbage throughout Oregon.
‘I wanted to stop and pick it up’
His passion for litter removal started locally at his home in Coos Bay. Every time he drove up and down the highway, the amount of trash he saw bothered him. His love for the environment is deeply rooted in memories of family hiking and camping trips.
“I just felt my foot twitch on the gas pedal — I wanted to stop and pick it up,” Furr said.
Eighty percent of what he finds is plastic — water bottles, bubble wrap, single-use containers. Other items, like used diapers or chewing tobacco cans, are a lot less pleasant.
But Furr has encountered obstacles that go beyond gross.
A Coos County jury found Furr, 37, guilty of misdemeanor disorderly conduct in February in a case that stemmed from depositing trash in a public right of way last year. He was acquitted of offensive littering and sentenced to probation, court records show.
Furr said he has been able to reach an agreement with ODOT to work along Highway 101. He hopes the high visibility will make people recognize a problem he feels has been forgotten.
“People clean up streams, and they clean up beaches. But the trash on the road is where a lot of it comes from,” Furr said.
Melyssa Graeper, who is the coordinator of the Necanicum Watershed Council, has been following Furr throughout his journey and supports him when she can.
“I’m pleased at the effort one person is making to not only improve his community, but the whole coastal community,” Graeper said. “It’s sad how much garbage there is, but it’s impressive how much of a difference one person is making. His white garbage bags are starting to make people start asking questions.”
Graeper said his work is important to the watershed council because eliminating litter on the road can have an overall positive impact on local watersheds.
“It’s not intentional garbage always — sometimes wind tips over garbage cans, and things fly out of truck beds,” she said. “But all storm drains lead to the ocean, and all this garbage will go and flow to the lowest point. As a council, the next step is to stop having the garbage end up on the road in the first place.”
A never-ending journey
Today, Furr will end his journey in Astoria, where he plans to spend time with his son for three weeks before turning around to start picking up trash down the other side of the highway.
“I can’t do anything else — I feel like I have to do this,” Furr said. “I get a lot of ‘thank-you’s,’ which is nice, but I want people to do something better. I hope I inspired you to see all this trash.”
There are a few things he plans to do differently the second time around. On his three-week break, he hopes to spray-paint “CARE” onto all of his garbage bags before hitting the road, rather than doing them in the evenings in his car.
He also hopes to make Leaven No Trace a nonprofit in the hopes of securing grants to finance his cause.
But for Furr, what makes the journey rewarding will remain the same.
“Looking backward and seeing everything clean,” he said. “That’s the best.”