Trash-talking garbage man on a mission to clean up after litterbugs, one bag at a time
Updated: Jul 26
JUST ABOUT EVERY day, Sam Farrell of West Palm Beach goes around town picking up litter. And while he’s at it, he talks a lot of trash.
You won’t find him riding the back step of a noisy garbage truck on pickup day. This dedicated one-man sanitation crew — a 25-year-old New York native with an economics degree from Penn State — gets around on foot, a rubbish-retrieving Johnny Appleseed on a mission to make his world a little bit cleaner.
Three years ago, Farrell launched the Regrowth Project, an environemental conservation company with a goal to inspire people to perform a relatively simple task every day — filling a plastic grocery bag with litter from around your neighborhood.
“By cleaning up 1 bag at a time, we believe we can make the world a better place and inspire others to clean up their local natural areas as well,’’ his website says. “Supporting RGP is supporting Earth!”
RGP, as Farrell refers to himself and his company, sells ballcaps, T-shirts and hoodies on its website and pledges to collect one bag of trash for every item sold. Every few weeks, he’ll host group cleans.
But just about every day he’s out on his own, roaming some sorry corner of whatever community he happens to be in, armed with a few empty Publix bags and his smartphone, which he eagerly uses to shame viewers into action.
His short, engaging Instagram videos document his daily collection of crushed soda cans, crumbling styrofoam food containers and plastic water bottles.
“Our communities are better than this,’’ he trash-talks in one clip. “We don’t need Modelos sitting at every street corner. We don't need plastic water bottles infesting a place where people walk around. They drive to work, they are forced to see that disgusting litter. Not on my watch.”
The videos, improvised and unrehearsed, usually end with some variation of his signature sign-off: “Follow if you like what you see. This is RGP.’’
Once in a while, he’ll drop an obscure pop-culture reference.
“Once you notice it you can't un-notice it. I forget which pill is the one that he takes and then he sees the world’s a matrix. Ummm, maybe not the best example, but the point is once you see it you can't unsee it and you're simply called to do something about it. ‘’
Farrell’s calling came in July 2020. At the time, he was a freshly minted Penn State graduate struggling like everyone else to deal with the scary realities of a months-old pandemic that was killing thousands and forcing everyone to shelter in place. (It also forced the cancellation of his graduation ceremony.)
Farrell and his friends tried to get outside as often as they could, taking responsible social-distancing bike rides to Pelham Bay Park in New York, where they’d hang out in the woods and walk the beach.
The scenery and sunshine were great escapes, but Farrell quickly noticed something else about the park.
“There was always trash,’’ he said. “Beer bottles and cans and shooters. This beautiful spot in the middle of the woods was always trashed, so I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to start cleaning this up.’’’
Farrell and a group of friends started collecting trash in public parks and streets during their pandemic outings.
On one of their early “cleans,’’ as he would later call them before they became a routine, he noticed a sand crab “trying to eat a Corona bottle cap.’’ That, he said, was “one of the moments that made me think I should be doing this more often.’’
He started researching other trash-collecting initiatives and found inspiration from 4Ocean, a company dedicated to cleaning plastic and trash from waterways.
By August 2020, he quit his job at AFLAC and launched RGP.
“I said, ‘I’m going to take this seriously for a while and see where it goes,’’ he recalled. “4Ocean was where I got the idea and I took it in my own direction.’’
Farrell still needed a day job. Gigs selling insurance and writing mortgages sent him to Baltimore and, in July 2022, West Palm Beach. Wherever he went, he made sure to get outside just about every day to collect litter, a routine his co-workers in Baltimore discovered one day on their own.
“One of our colleagues saw him out and about at 6:30 in the morning picking up trash,’’ said Trevor Magnuski, who worked with Farrell at NewDay USA mortgage.
“He said it's something he's passionate about. He was consistent every single day, one bag of trash at least,’’ Magnuski recalled. “I was really impressed, especially coming from someone in the corporate world who’s focused on giving back to the community.’’
But others couldn’t help but raise their eyebrows at the sight of Farrell, a clean-cut guy in khakis and polo shirt, collecting trash on the side of a road.
“At first, I thought it was a little weird. I was like, ‘What's he doing? Is he digging for gold out there?’’’ recalled Dan Seletsky, a close friend.
“Most people when they think of picking up trash it's because they got in trouble with the law and they're doing community service,’’ he said with a chuckle.
But Farrell quickly won respect from his friends and co-workers.
“After a couple of weeks I started to realize that this is something he’s really serious about,’’ said Seletsky, who remembers when Farrell persuaded his office colleagues to join him after work one day.
“He was asking if anyone was doing anything after work. He invited 15 of us,’’ he said. “We each got a couple of bags of trash. When we were throwing everything into the Dumpster I kind of realized: No one else is doing this and we're actually making something of an impact here. If you can get numbers of others to do it, it definitely makes a difference.’’
And Farrell’s mission has no limitations.
“He is really determined to make any community he's in a better place,’’ Seletsky said. “Even when he goes home to visit family or goes on vacation, he still finds time to get it done. I really admire that.’’
Farrell admires community cleanup groups like Friends of Palm Beach, but he said he’s surprised more people don’t spend five minutes each day on their own picking up litter in their communities.
“It's not a hard thing to do. This is definitely not specialized work, but it's necessary work, frankly,’’ he said the other day over the roar of a passing Brightline train as he collected trash in an empty field on U.S. 1 at the very south end of West Palm Beach.
“People should have standards for the place they live,’’ he said. “Your community is a reflection of yourself. If you let spaces like this go into disrepair and you live there, it's kind of on you.’’
Growing up in a comfortable middle-class family, Farrell never exhibited signs of one day becoming a one-man sanitation crew, said his mother, Cathy Taylor.
His room could be messy at times. And while he had normal chores, like his younger sister did, “he wasn't the guy who took out the trash for the most part,’’ Taylor said with a laugh.
Once her son got serious about RGP, Taylor said it reminded her of her late mother, who would pick up trash now and then while out on walks.
“I don’t even know that he knew about that,’’ she said. “And now my kid is doing what my mom did! Maybe it’s genetic.’’
During college, Farrell had a summer job with the Westchester County parks department picking up trash in Glen Island Park in New Rochelle, N.Y. “Maybe that was percolating in his head when this whole thing started,’’ she said.
Although Farrell will take a day off now and then, he collects litter wherever he happens to be at any given time — on vacation in New Hampshire, visiting family in New York or at home in West Palm Beach.
“I joke with my friends, Put me anywhere and I will find a place where people are littering in 10 minutes tops,’’ said Farrell, who has picked up litter from Delray Beach to Jupiter since moving to West Palm Beach last summer.
Once he fills a few bags, he said he discards them in commercial Dumpsters around town. “And if I don't have a Dumpster to go to, trash day is on Friday,’’ he said. “I’ll just bring it home and maneuver from there.’’
He doesn't always wear protective gloves on his cleans. But he always thoroughly washes his hands after each one.
Farrell considers himself a regular guy who rides his bike, shoots hoops, plays chess, cheers for his New England Patriots and enjoys an occasional beer or two with friends at Bradley’s or Dixie Bar and Grill.
He just figures that since he likes getting outside everyday, why not spend 15 minutes or so picking up litter.
“A lot of kids my age are very focused on going to work, getting a good job and making money. That's all great. That's something I care about as well,’’ he said.
“But I think it's very important to have something else you care about that you take action on every day. This is a way you can actually make a difference and make the Earth a little healthier.’’
Sometimes it even pays off in cash and prizes.
He found a $50 bill on a clean in Baltimore. Cleaning a field in New York, he came across a sun-bleached soda can commemorating the 1994 New York Rangers Stanley Cup championship.
He once found a perfect pair of Ray-Bans. On the south end of West Palm the other day, as another Brightline train roared by, he found a Whole Foods cookbook and a waterlogged book called A Ring of Endless Light.
Some of his unusual retrievals, including Barbie dolls and toilet seats, are compiled in a montage on an Instagram link called RPG Cool Finds.
Most of it, though, is traditional trash — rusted cans, broken beer bottles, losing-lottery tickets, crumpled McDonald’s bags, cracked styrofoam clamshells, tooth brushes, socks and shoes.
As of July 23, 2023, RPG had collected 3,192 bags of litter, according to a tally Farrell updates each day on his Instagram bio. That’s three years worth of trash collected with help from at least 150 people from neglected corners of streets and parks in Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Maryland and South Florida.
It’s also nearly 1,000 more bags of litter than followers to his Instagram link, his main megaphone.
“His biggest struggle is popularizing it and spreading the message and having other people take a bag everyday and clean up some trash,’’ his mom said.
“At its best it would be a movement,’’ she said, “not just one guy against the trash of the world.’’
Farrell knows he’ll never completely rid the world of litter, but he takes pride in making a difference, however small it may seem.
“At the end of the day, I’m spreading the mission,’’ he said. “I want people thinking of me so when they’re out and they see trash, they’re (thinking), ‘We should be cleaning this up.’’’
© 2023 ByJoeCapozzi.com All rights reserved.
If you enjoyed this story, please help support our independent journalism by clicking the donation button in the masthead on our homepage.
About the author
Joe Capozzi is an award-winning reporter based in Lake Worth Beach. He spent more than 30 years writing for newspapers, mostly at The Palm Beach Post, where he wrote about the opioid scourge, invasive pythons, the birth of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County government. For 15 years, he covered the Miami Marlins baseball team. Joe left The Post in December 2020. View all posts by Joe Capozzi.