The Wissahickon’s shameful collection unveiled

If one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, then the Wissahickon is a veritable gold mine.

Dismayed by the amount of garbage he saw in one of the city’s preeminent green spaces, Bradley Maule collected nearly 4,000 pieces of garbage over one year to create “One Man’s Trash,” an exhibition at the Fairmount Waterworks which opens on Earth Day.

Maule’s walks yielded 3,786 items of garbage, including 347 aluminum beer cans, 255 water bottles, 149 glass bottles, 55 Wawa-brand items, 22 socks, 22 gloves, seven pairs of underwear and three pregnancy tests.

That doesn’t count the really big stuff like tires, car fenders and wooden pallets. He did not find any dead bodies, although he was warned to expect them.

Maule said his goal was to exhibit the garbage he collected, most of which is on display hanging from the ceiling in plastic bags, to raise “awareness of the problem.”

“In the Wissahickon, I’ve always been bummed by just how much trash there is,” said Maule, a Mt. Airy resident. “It’s the most beautiful place in this city. People need a beautiful place to escape to. To see it abused with plastic bags, plastic water bottles, plastic Gatorade bottles — there’s just so much plastic.”

Beyond the typical food wastes, Maule pulled out several pieces of truly bizarre items for the show — drivers’ licenses, 21 pictures of a goat, floppy disks, a “doob tube” to carry marijuana from a California dispensary, and a bag filled with old-fashioned pull-tab aluminum cans.

“Pull-tabs were discontinued around 1980 and being replaced by stay-tabs,” Maule said. “So that pretty much guarantees these 41 cans being at least 35 years old.”

In the hundreds of plastic water bottles, Maule sees the lost money spent on bottled water, when the U.S. has some of the cleanest municipal water systems in the world.

“Litter, as long as its on the ground, is going to end up in the waterways,” he said.

The show also includes photography of Wissahickon’s Devil’s Pool by Sarah K. Kaufman, an art professor at Ursinus College.

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