How 2 Pickering teens and their 'Leaning Tower of Trash' are aiming to clean up the GTA

Pickering teens Sam Demma and Dillon Mendes founded PickWaste and they say they’ve collected 650 bags of trash and recycling since July of last year.

18-year-olds Sam Demma and Dillon Mendes founded road trash pick-up organization PickWaste

Pickering teens Sam Demma and Dillon Mendes founded PickWaste. (PickWaste)

If the GTA is starting to look a lot greener, you may have two Pickering teens to thank.

Sam Demma and Dillon Mendes founded PickWaste, an organization that aims to clean up the streets one piece of trash at a time, and they say they've collected 650 bags of trash and recycling since July of last year.

And of those hundreds of bags, Demma managed to talk his parents into keeping just over 100 bags of recycling in his backyard — something Demma and Mendes like to call their "Leaning Tower of Trash." 
Sam Demma and Dillon Mendes plan to bring their 'Leaning Tower of Trash' with them to their Awareness Day, environmental awareness rally, this weekend. (John Grierson/CBC)

"We're both super passionate about the environment," he said. "We understand that the condition of the humanity ties into the conditions of our environment."

PickWaste has strong roots in schools with Demma and Mendes saying they've spoken at about 32 high schools. And they've attracted volunteers who are looking to complete the community service hours required to graduate to take part.

Co-founder inspired by high school class

It may be fitting considering that the inspiration for the organization came from an idea shared between classroom walls. 

"My teacher one day in class started screaming at us, telling us that small, consistent actions can lead to a global, massive change, and if you want to change the world, find something you're passionate about and take small consistent actions in that direction, and that's what I started doing," Demma told CBC Toronto.

Deciding what to do didn't come right away. It took Demma two weeks to decide he'd like to make a difference by picking up trash.

If we weren't passionate about it, we would have just quit.- PickWaste co-founder Sam Demma 

And he did so unbeknownst​ to many for months, until Mendes saw him picking up garbage on the side of the road. After he learned more, he was soon on board.

"He explained to me his concept and I fell in love with it, so I went home and gave him a call and suggested we host weekly cleanups and see who comes out," Mendes said. "I said, 'What if we turn this into a movement?' That was the day PickWaste was born."

Staying committed

Since the organization was launched last summer, Demma and Mendes have been on a crusade to get others on board.

"Our friends started with us in the beginning and after a couple of weeks it kind of fell off, so it was tough to get them," Demma said. "When we first started out we only have four people come out. If we weren't passionate about it, we would have just quit."

Demma and Mendes say they now have a volunteer base of about eight to 12 people, with their most dedicated being older people, and say they couldn't do it without them. 

"We started with that one cup, walking home. Now it's 650 bags, located in four cities. We've spoken to over 5,000 people. All because we took that small consistent action," Demma said. 

This weekend they're holding Awareness Day, an environmental awareness rally, at St. Mary High School in Pickering where the city's mayor has agreed to speak.

Their message goes beyond just picking up trash, but making better consumer choices to help the environment as well, including reducing their use of single-use plastics. To drive that message home, they're bringing their Leaning Tower of Trash with them. 

"We really don't need plastic bottles. We can all have our own reusable bottles — fill it up before we leave for work," Demma said. "It also comes along with what companies continue to produce, and so if we stop buying them, they will have to change their products."

And Demma and Mendes hope to inspire others to do good in other ways.

"[The] environment is one of the issues facing the world today, but the reality is there [are] thousands," Demma added. "We want to inspire other people to follow their passions and changing other social issues as well."

With files from Greg Ross