As a runner, I often encounter debris along the roads. This is why I stop to pick it up — and then what I do with it.

I tripped on a sidewalk while running in April of 2014, fell to the ground, and broke my wrist! The fracture required surgery, a titanium plate and screws, and months of rehab.

Needless to say, I’m very careful now, not wanting to repeat that painful experience! I’m constantly scouting ahead, looking out for potential hazards. That’s how I began to notice all the junk that’s on the road.

I started picking up the junk so no one would run over it with a car or bike – or trip over it while running or walking. It just seemed like the right thing to do.

When I run on roads, I’ll always choose the shoulder facing oncoming traffic. I wear a running pouch to carry my phone. The pouch doubles as a place to store the smaller debris I pick up along the way.

What do I pick up?

Nails, screws, nuts, bolts, and washers are quite common. Whether it’s a road hazard – or just something interesting – I’ll stop to pick it up and place it in my running pouch until I return home.

Of course, I always pick up money, no matter the value or country of origin! Pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, American, Canadian – once in a while, even folding money. The value isn’t so important. It’s the cheap thrill of discovery.

Occasionally there are larger objects in the road. These are more serious tripping and puncture hazards: pipes, car parts, grill grates, clothes hangers, etc. If an item is too big to fit in my pouch, I just carry it carefully by hand until I get home. I’ve literally run with scissors!

Unusual items are always a bonus. Screwdrivers, hammers, wrenches, saws, wire, batteries, padlocks, razors, eyeglasses, an iPhone, calculator, spoons, knives, and of course, a fork in the road!

One time I picked up a bunch of roofing nails all grouped together in one spot. My guess is they fell off a roofer’s truck as it was turning a corner. I took my time to find every last one since it happened to be the very route my wife drives to work every day!

What I Won’t Pick Up

Is there anything I won’t pick up? Yes. I have a rule: no biohazards! I’ve seen hypodermic needles, dental floss picks, food, liquor, etc. And lately, I’ve seen many discarded face masks along the roadways. Sad.

And, if I’m running in a race, I don’t stop. But I’ll admit – I’m tempted!

Pro Tips

I’ve learned a few pro tips along the way:

  • Obviously, if you vary your route, you’ll have an opportunity to see more junk.
  • If you have a standard loop you run, try going the opposite direction. That way, you’ll cover both sides of the road!
  • The day after ‘garbage day’ is always a good one, too. Stuff falls out as the garbage trucks do their thing.
  • Bridges and overpasses prove to be rich sources of debris.
  • In the winter, snowplows push snow — and road junk — to the side of the road making it easier to spot.

What do I do with the junk I collect?

After a run, I toss whatever junk I’ve found that day into my road hazard box. I collect it there throughout the year.

On the first day of the new year, I sort through my road hazard box and arrange all my collected treasures in a unique design. I’ll take some photos to post on social media. After all that, I toss it all out in the trash and begin the new year with an empty road hazard collection box.

It has been an annual New Year’s Day tradition for me for the last five years. I’m looking forward to January 1, 2021, because the dismal pandemic year 2020 is turning out to be a very good year for garbage. Go figure.