The next time you see volunteers with fairy wings, trash grabbers, and maybe even tutus, along the streets of Playa del Rey, make sure you tell them “thank you” because you’ve just spotted a PDR Trash Fairy.
Led by Playa del Rey resident Sara Kay, the group was started earlier this summer after she became tired of seeing her neighborhood trashed. Instead of getting angry about the litter she’d encounter on walks through her beloved beachside community, she decided to come up with a positive solution.
“I was walking past the park, and it was overrun with so much trash. I was really bummed out, both for the community and for everyone who visits during the summer,” said Kay. “I wanted them to have a better experience. They’re coming for beauty and relaxation, and this was disgusting.”
The next morning, still disappointed by what she had seen, she sprang into action.
“I thought, I can either sit here and shake my head at people or go on message boards and rant against this, or I can go and do something about it,” said Kay.
While picking up the garbage, she had an idea: What if there was no trash on the streets and the community was clean and beautiful for both Playa del Rey residents and visitors to enjoy?
Realizing she couldn’t tackle the trash problem alone, she started working on a plan to engage community members in a way that was both fun and a manageable time commitment, but would still fulfill the objective to clean up PDR.
“For myself and others, when they see an area is trashed, their initial thought is, ‘What is wrong with people?’ You get in this really negative mode, and I didn’t want more negativity online or within the community,” said Kay.
Looking to override those sentiments, Kay started the PDR Trash Fairies to be a light, silly and fun way to encourage people to clean up the streets, park and beaches in the area. Before she invited her neighbors to join in, she created a social media page to set the tone for the group she wanted to build. She started posting pictures of herself in a tutu and fairy wings, and soon other people, some already picking up trash in the neighborhood, jumped on board to help.
“When you open our front door, we would see trash. Nobody cares how it got there, but we needed to do something about it,” said Rob Klyver. “I’ve had a couple little kids suddenly join in and help. I don’t think people see the trash anymore. I’ve seen people step over it. I’ll pick something up, and you’ll see a light bulb go off. People that aren’t even part of the group are starting to get involved.”
While fairy costumes and brightly colored trash grabbers are optional (Kay says PDR Trash Fairies are free to express themselves in whatever way they feel comfortable), the outfits are an obvious way to be spotted and bring attention to the clean-up efforts.
“The playful shaming of someone picking up your trash in a tutu while you’re standing right there, perhaps conveys a message without overtly shaming someone,” said Kay. “It draws attention and sends the message a little more when someone in a tutu is picking up trash. I’m clearly not a city worker.”
For volunteers like Sherry Lambie, being involved is a way to help the community and give back.
“We’ve noticed an increase in trash, and we’re inclined to do something about it. It’s been nice to feel like we’re involved, and people appreciate it,” said Lambie, who picks up a lot of cigarette butts, alcohol bottles, fast food wrappers and diapers on her strolls. “People have been rolling down their windows to say ‘thank you.’ It’s very community minded, fun, lighthearted and positive.”
For now, the group has 15 full-time fairies, which are given a zone to clean up for 20-minutes a week. Volunteers are also asked to post their experience and clean-up hauls on the PDR Trash Fairies Facebook page to help inspire others to join in and show that picking up trash can be fun. Numerous other volunteers, from ages 4 to 82, are also involved.
Trying to create different levels of involvement so everyone feels like they can participate and help beautify Playa del Rey is important for Kay. Participating in “Casual Fridays” where people are encouraged to pick up a piece of trash that they’d normally walk past, is just one small way people can give back to their community. Seeing the group continue to grow and inspire others to take an active role in cleaning up their community, instead of waiting for others to do it or grumbling about trash, has been a magical thing for Kay to see.
“It’s a beautiful thing to be able to care for the place that you live and the place that you love,” said Kay. “It’s easy to say, ‘I love living in Playa,’ but what does that mean? It’s not enough to just say it. You have to show it.”
Want to get involved? Each PDR Trash Fairy spends 20 minutes cleaning a dedicated zone, once a week, on their own schedule.
Email Sara Kay at email@example.com to sign up, grab your starter kit and receive your clean up area. You can also follow the group’s progress on Facebook by searching PDR Trash Fairies.
Kay also manages @SavePDR on Instagram.
Posted September 2019. Photo by Zsuzsi Steiner.