A man crosses Dolores Park with bags full of plastic bottles to recycle.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, a group of four friends sat on a hill in Dolores Park drinking wine and laughing as the smooth voice of Astrud Gilberto hummed from a nearby speaker. A trash-filled plastic bag sat on the edge of their blanket.

“We try to live by the philosophy: Leave no trace,” said 30-year-old Patrick McGuire as he sipped white wine from a plastic cup. His friends nodded in agreement.

Dolores Park doesn’t have a trash problem, McGuire said.

Minutes earlier, a woman who didn’t speak English gestured to take the group’s wine bottle to add to her bags. McGuire gave it to her with a smile.

It’s like a complimentary recycling service, said Frances Brady, a 37-year-old among the group.

“I think it’s fantastic,” she said.

Brady was referring to about a dozen people who regularly collect recyclables from revelers and take them to the recycling center to exchange for cash.

Trash only seems to be a problem after big events at the park, McGuire said.

“Those are the days that make us look bad,” he said.

In Barcelona, public parks have a lot more trash than Dolores Park, said Diego Lozano, a 38-year-old Spanish native who sat next to McGuire.

“Compared to what happens in Spain, this place is a haven,” he said.

“If anything, I feel like there’s never enough trash cans,” interjected 39-year-old Osana Avanesova. The group collectively nodded in agreement. Yes, there should be more trash cans.

A few feet away, 29-year-old Anthony Smith-Winters, cooler in tow, asked people for donations for a nonprofit in exchange for drinks.

“I always make sure I pick my trash up and recycle it,” Smith-Winters said. “Even if it blows away, I try to catch it.”

Smith-Winters spends most weekends walking around the park seeking donations. Considering how many people use it during the weekend, it’s pretty clean, he said. Still, it’s more complicated than that, he said. The amount of trash changes depending on where you are in the park.

For example, the west side of the park where Smith-Winters was standing — a section known as “gay beach” — tends to be the cleanest at the end of the weekend. If people do leave behind trash it’s usually glass or aluminum for the folks who recycle it, he said.

“It’s almost a symbiotic relationship,” Smith-Winters said.

As you walk east though, there are more partiers. They’re a younger demographic and not as concerned with their surroundings, he said.

As the sun set on another weekend at Dolores Park, one by one those on the west side folded their blankets, packed up what was left of their food and headed home as scavengers scoured the area for bottles and cans.

On the east side, large groups began breaking up and only the most inebriated ones remained.

“I think it’s mostly the drunk people that leave the stuff,” said 30-year-old Eric Ingersoll, who was selling coffee and tea, as he looked around at the park. “It’s not intentional. I think maybe when you’re drunk, it’s hard to remember to pick up your trash.”

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Soon after Dorothy M. Atkins moved to the Bay Area, she met an artist painting a heroin-themed scene in one of the Mission’s mural alleys. The artist explained that despite the city’s high number of drug users, it lacks an effective needle exchange program. Dorothy hopes to explore the complexity of such policies and their impact on the Mission through her political reporting.

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  1. Everyone needs to do their part. That means take all your trash with you – such as bottle caps and cigarette butts…

  2. Living a block away from the park I’ve seen the end-of-day and the early-morning. I find the overuse of the park, especially in regards to people’s self-absorbed consumption totally gross. You should profile the city workers who come around at 7am in vests and pick up every single bit of trash left behind. Yes, thats right, the park looks the way it does because there’s a whole crew of workers who come through and pick up after these kids. Maybe we can all pay more taxes so that city workers can do your laundry and housework too!


  3. I reckon we should HAND our bottles/cans to the people who pick up our trash. I saw a guy roll an empty bottle to the lady in the second pic, and waved at her like it’s all good. Someone should throw him a bottle and make him pick it up.
    Standing up, walking over to them and handing over a few bottles takes away at most 2min from our lives.