Twenty-year Kent resident Tom Burkley is quiet, modest, and understated. He spent 15 years commuting to Seattle to work as a pedicab driver, wheeling sports fans to games and tourists around the city to see the sights. An injury in 2010 forced him to quit, but he held on to his buggy — which found a new purpose in August 2018.
“I noticed a lot of trash while I was walking around and just decided to start picking it up in my buggy,” said Burkley, 52. “I wasn’t really expecting any attention, but it just kind of blew up.”
Burkley made a Facebook page called Kent Clean Streets, where he posts before-and-after photos of areas that he has cleaned up each day. He converted the backseat of his buggy into a space to hold trash bags and spends five days a week, 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., rolling around Kent, cleaning up an average of 64 pounds a day.
“In October, I took over 1,400 pounds of garbage off the streets,” said Burkley. Kent residents send him messages through his Facebook page, tipping him off to areas that are particularly bad. Burkley — a life long car-opposer because of their environmental impact — has never had a driver’s license, so a quick drive over to a dirty site isn’t an option. It’s buggy or bust.
Since August, Burkley has gotten extremely engaged in the local community, been featured on TV, won an award from the city, and gotten more than 500 followers on his Facebook page. He holds group litter pick-up gatherings once a month and runs photo contests in which people submit pictures of themselves picking up litter for a chance to win a gift card to a local business.
“I think it might just be because the litter buggy is so visible,” Burkley said. “If I was just walking around doing this all day on foot, I don’t think anyone would notice.”
Sometimes, posts get a lot of attention from the community — like the one he made about a Dumpster area too big for him to clean up himself. He contacted the city, which sent sanitation workers to clean up the area. Burkley took pictures of them at work and posted them on the page. Hundreds of people responded, thanking the men for their work, which typically goes unnoticed and un-thanked.
While he has received some donations, Burkley is eagerly brainstorming ways to evolve Kent Clean Streets into a small business, so that he could perhaps hire some people. He’s not sure where the whole thing will take him, but his overall mission is simple.
“Nobody likes litter,” he said. “I would like for Kent to have a reputation as a clean city. I want people who don’t live here to want to visit to do their shopping and walk around. And with litter, if you don’t pick it up — who will?”