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How picking up beer cans on her runs earned an Ontario woman $274 in 2020

Kathy Mantel of Princeton, Ont., was tired of seeing litter on her runs, so she started picking it up herself

Photo by: Kathy Mantel

Kathy Mantel of Princeton, Ont., made $274 thanks to running in 2020. That might not sound like much, but the thing is, she’s not a professional and that’s not money she earned from a contract or sponsorship. Instead, Mantel made the close to $300 simply by picking up beer cans every time she went out for a run. This is something she has done for a few years, and whenever she heads out the door to run, she has at least one garbage bag with her. Not only is this a great way to clean up her local roads, but Mantel says it also gives her something to do and to focus on during her runs. The cash is a nice bonus.  

Mantel started picking up garbage in the early 2000s, just after her oldest daughter was born. She would strap her daughter in their jogging stroller and head out to the concession roads around Princeton, which Mantel says were (and still are) always littered with a variety of trash. As her daughter got older and grew out of the stroller, Mantel stopped her garbage pickup practice, but she got back into it recently. 

Photo: Canada Running Series

“I started up again the past few years and keep notes on my haul in my running journal,” she says. “It motivates me.” Mantel, who has been running for 25 years, has completed 14 marathons, and she is no stranger to the long run. She says she can get quite bored on these long outings, but when she has something to grab her attention — like keeping an eye out for beer cans, fast food bags or any other garbage — time goes by much quicker. 

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“You have to distract yourself on long runs, and this is how I do that,” she says. There are days, though, when she spends “more time in the ditch than on the road,” but Mantel says she doesn’t mind. The spring is the busiest time of year for Mantel when it comes to picking up garbage, as a lot of it has been covered by snow for months. 

“This time of year I have to bring three or even four bags with me every run,” she says. “I’ve had some ridiculous runs this year where I’ve found 140 cans in just 10K.” When she fills a bag to the point where she can’t comfortably carry it while running (which is about 30 cans, she says), Mantel stashes it in a ditch and circles back for it later in her car. 

After years of doing this, Mantel says she constantly sees litter on roads as she passes by in her car or on runs. At this point, it’s impossible to miss. “When I tell people about it, they don’t realize it’s this bad until they go on runs themselves and notice themselves.” Mantel says this spring is even worse than other years, which she suspects is due to the pandemic. 

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Photo: Kathy Mantel

“With bars closed, I think people just go to the store, grab a six-pack and drive around and drink.” This is incredibly unnerving and upsetting, she says, and though she wishes that she could do something to stop people from drinking and driving, she knows there’s really nothing she can do to stop them. Instead of dwelling on this, she opts to focus on what she can control, which is why she continues to clean up everyone else’s mess. 

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Mantel saw an unbelievable haul in March, collecting a whopping $111 worth of cans. She admits that picking up garbage might not sound like something most runners will want to do, but even so, she encourages everyone to try it. “If you’re running on a rural road, just keep an eye out for litter,” she says. “It’s extremely disappointing to see so much garbage on every run, but we can help fix that problem.”