This Dad Is Making San Francisco Cleaner, One Street at a Time

This Dad Is Making San Francisco Cleaner, One Street at a Time

(Above Photo Credit: Refuse Refuse: refuserefusesf.org/press-kit)

There is a common theme found in most positive news stories. It only takes one person with an idea to create a trend where everyone lends a helping hand.

For Vince Yuen, who lives in San Francisco, that was his experience. He takes his daughters on daily walks through the city, picking up the litter they encounter along the way.

Yuen just wanted to show his family that people can get involved when there are things they know they can do. “Trash on the street; I can do that,” he said. “I just go out there and make sure it gets picked up. That’s why it is very attractive – because it is so tangible.” [1]

It might have seemed like a small effort at the time, but it quickly turned into a massive campaign run by an organization, Refuse Refuse, that started cleaning up trash throughout the city.

March 20th, 2023: Over the weekend, Refusers cleaned up over 200 bags of trash in Alamo Square, Bernal Heights, Central Sunset, Diamond Heights, Glen Park, Haight Ashbury, Hayes Valley, Japantown, NOPA, Ocean Beach, Outer Mission, Outer Richmond, Mission, Parnassus Heights, & Portola. Photo Credit: Refuse Refuse San Francisco-Facebook @RefuseRefuseSF

Yuen Is the Founder of Refuse Refuse

Many families struggled to keep their children entertained and engaged during the pandemic year, especially when lockdowns restricted movement. One available activity to nearly everyone was a chance to get outside to exercise.

Parents across the United States took their kids on daily walks, often around the block or the neighborhood, to break up the daily routine of being inside.

Yuen noticed during his walks that San Francisco was becoming a litter-strewn city. It no longer reminded him of the beautiful place it had been. That led to his decision to launch the massive undertaking of getting everything picked up. [2]

Since that decision, Yuen has helped to organize more than 600 litter cleanup events across the city. Those efforts have led to the removal of over 150,000 gallons of trash.

It is tremendous growth from an effort that came from purchasing a few trash bags because his daughters were tired of gardening in the backyard or riding their bikes on the sidewalks.

Additional Inspiration Came from a Neighbor Who Asked to Join

After working with his daughters to pick up the trash on his daily walks, Yuen says a neighbor they didn’t know called out to them. They wanted to see if he’d let them join him and his family while clearing trash from the street.

“We exchanged numbers at that time,” Yuen recalls. “Then the next week, he was out there with me, picking up trash alongside myself and my two kids. That’s when I was like, ‘Oh. OK – there’s something here.’”

When the first organized trash pickup efforts occurred, Yuen said his focus was on “quantifying the amount of trash being collected.” As time passed and Refuse Refuse San Francisco kept growing, he realized something more important was happening.

He was becoming more connected to his neighbors, the community, and the city he called home. Yuen says that it is this reward, more than any street that gets cleaned, that he wants to share with others.

“We say that we love San Francisco,” he said. “We live here. We benefit from all the great things you can find here, but it’s got to be more than me paying my taxes.”

Education and Activism Are Part of the Process

Dirty neighborhoods and streets don’t happen because of magic or uncontrollable circumstances. They’re caused by human behavior.

“Even though the majority of people do the right thing, most will throw things away,” Yuen said. “It’s just not enough because there is too much trash.”

Yuen uses his platform through Refuse Refuse San Francisco to teach people how the city gets filled with trash and grime. They review the necessary steps to combat the problem while fulfilling the organization’s mission.

This effort extends to policy activism. Per the Refuse Refuse website:

“City Hall exists for the people and they can only address our concerns if we make our voices heard. We seek to influence public policy related to waste management by engaging city government, elected officials, and fellow San Franciscans to push for and implement policies that work to keep our city clean.”

Yuen maintains a calendar of the available cleanups throughout the city on his website. Visitors can sort by neighborhood to find options close to home. [3]

“Rain or shine or heat wave, it doesn’t matter,” said Yuen. “If trash is out here, then we’re out here.” [4]

Yuen is there, pulling a red cart filled with Giants trash bags provided by ex-outfielder Hunter Pence. There are snacks, water bottles, and pickers for the volunteers.

“Yes, the trash will come back,” Yuen said. “If we keep coming back, you just have a clean street.”


[1] https://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/bay-area-proud/movement-started-by-sf-dad-picking-up-trash-with-his-daughters-spreads-across-city/2986994/ ; [2]https://refuserefusesf.org ; [3] https://refuserefusesf.org/cleanups ; [4] https://missionlocal.org/2022/06/trash-vincent-yuen-refuse-refuse-mission/