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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bob Molitor: Human Street Sweeper Cleans Up St. Louis One Gum Wrapper at a Time

Posted By on Thu, Mar 13, 2014 at 7:00 AM

click to enlarge Bob Molitor spends hours a day walking and picking up trash in St. Louis. - PHOTOS: CHAD GARRISON
  • Photos: Chad Garrison
  • Bob Molitor spends hours a day walking and picking up trash in St. Louis.

If you drive down Delmar, Skinker or Big Bend in the morning hours between 8 and 11 a.m., chances are you've seen Bob Molitor...though you may be more familiar with his rear end than his face. That's because Molitor's posterior is often pointed skyward as he bends over to pick up a stray cigarette butt, soda can or any of the millions of pieces of garbage the rest of us so casually toss to the ground.

"I was raised in the Lady Bird Johnson era of 'Keep America Beautiful,'" says Molitor in explaining his three-hour-a-day habit of picking up litter in University City, Clayton and St. Louis. "I think most people today just haven't been taught that message. I'll find a McDonald's bag on the ground where there's a trash can just a few feet away." See also: St. Louis Bike-Sharing: Mayor, Advocates Pursue Cycling System Similar to Other Cities

Molitor's litter detail began in 1998 after a discussion with some of his neighbors about trash in the Delmar Loop. Molitor had just moved back to the St. Louis area from Seattle where -- among other things -- he earned titles as a master gardener and recycler. Instead of just bitching about the litter in his new hometown of University City, Molitor vowed to do something about it.

Nearly two decades later, the only thing that upends his daily routine is the rain. His cleaning companions -- his Labradors named Mandy and Froni -- don't like to get wet. "On those days I'll complain that I wasn't able to do my job," says Molitor. "My partner, Orlando, will remind me, 'No, no, no. It's the job you choose to do. '"

click to enlarge Molitor and his dogs cover three to four miles a day and collect bags of trash along the way.
  • Molitor and his dogs cover three to four miles a day and collect bags of trash along the way.

But the way Molitor sees it, if he doesn't do it, who will? And while Molitor admits to being a bit anal retentive -- perhaps even a teensy bit OCD -- he believes he's making a difference.

"I've had many people tell me that I inspire them to do their part to clean up their surroundings," says Molitor, who has only upped his litter patrols since retiring sixteen months ago as an education coordinator with the Special School District. "One woman told me that she sends her kids out to clean the streets on days she doesn't see me in her neighborhood."

See also: New Study Lists 10 Suburbs to Move to Because St. Louis Has "Bad Reputation"

Businesses along his patrol route have also recognized Molitor, with several store owners giving him gift certificates in appreciation for his efforts. Molitor's mission also comes with other rewards. He occasionally finds money on the street -- the most ever being a $50 bill. (Though on a recent morning, he'd only collected were two pennies.) All that walking and bending has another benefit: "I'm in great shape," confirms the 64-year-old Molitor.

Still, his task can be a bit frustrating at times. Each morning Molitor collects multiple grocery bags full of litter only for more trash to pile up the very next day. And while he says officials in St. Louis tend to be pretty responsive when he contacts them about trash and illegal dumping, not everyone is as reliable.

"I e-mailed my councilman the other week about the need for trash cans outside [University City] city hall where there aren't any and there's always litter," says Molitor. "I didn't even get a response."

And so it goes. With so many people seeing litter as someone else's problem, Molitor keeps busy. "I'm doing my part," he says. "I'm part of the village."

Riverfront Times is always looking for compelling local characters to write about. Send your suggestions to or hit him up on Twitter @chadgarrison.

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