A Vancouver marathon runner is cleaning up the city one mask at a time

Mar 15 2022, 11:22 pm

A Vancouver man is trying to normalize the idea of picking up random trash on the streets.

We’ve likely all come across discarded face masks across the city, but maybe haven’t thought about picking them up and putting them in the trash.

David Papineau has been doing just that. He’s a marathon runner, and over the past year he has been picking up pandemic leftovers in an effort to make the city a slightly nicer place.

Daily Hive spoke to Papineau about what inspired his efforts.

“I’ve had more than a few longer outings during which I’ve repeatedly asked myself why I’m doing this, but it was basically a combination of pandemic boredom, frustration with seeing litter everywhere I ran and walked, and ultimately a feeling that I needed to contribute.”


Papineau reflected on the fact that we’ve asked our frontline and essential workers to do so much during the pandemic, and that picking up discarded masks around his neighbourhood seemed like a simple way to “nudge the city back toward a sense of normalcy.”

According to Papineau, seeing masks all over the streets serves as a reminder of the time we live in. A reminder of COVID-19. A reminder of all we’ve had to endure since the pandemic began two years ago.

vancouver mask


“You will recall that a year ago, case numbers and hospitalizations were dropping, people were starting to get vaccinated, and things were looking up, so I only expected to be doing it for a month or two. Oops!”


Yeah, that didn’t last long.

Papineau began his venture almost exactly a year ago. A friend told him about the City of Vancouver’s adopt-a-block street clean-up program, and he immediately signed up.

“I live on a short street that didn’t take long to clean, so I wandered off to clean up a few more blocks in my neighbourhood and have been picking up masks on my runs and walks around Vancouver ever since.”

Gloves, tongs, and a bread bag are the only tools Papineau needs. In a pinch, he’ll resort to using a dog poop bag.

Papineau reached a milestone on March 12, picking up mask number 32,000. While most of them end up in the trash, he donated several thousand masks to Michelle Leone, an artist who was working on a project that Daily Hive covered.

Does Vancouver have a littering problem?

“The world thinks of Vancouver as a beautiful city — which it most definitely is — but sometimes I feel like we spend too much time staring at the mountains and oceans to notice the garbage accumulating at our feet,” says Papineau.

He suggests that the street cleaning programs the city runs can only do so much if residents don’t change their attitudes towards littering.

In terms of how long Papineau intends on doing this, he thinks that with the mask mandate being lifted, this might be a good time to start winding his efforts down.

“I will continue to pick up litter, just not as obsessively. I’ve also finally got a marathon to train for and the constant starting and stopping of mask collecting is a lousy way to train.”

Papineau is encouraging others to get involved.

“Take pride in your city, your trails, your waterfront, and your environment.”

You don’t have to officially adopt-a-block, according to Papineau; just do it on your own like he did, with dollar-store tongs and a bag.

“Get your kids involved. Hold a block clean-up party with your neighbours or join a shoreline clean-up.”

He says it’s even as simple as just heading out the door with a single bag and filling it with litter.

“Get creative with it. Target one item of litter; if masks aren’t your thing, pick up coffee cups, lids, candy wrappers, fast food containers or whatever trash you see in your neighbourhood.”

Papineau says he knows it’s a cliche, but that everyone does indeed have the power to make a difference.

Amir AliAmir Ali

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