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Viral #trashtag challenge inspires bored teens — and tens of thousands of others — to clean the planet

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

It may seem there is a new viral hashtag every day on social media, but the #trashtag challenge is a trend with a greener purpose — its users are cleaning up the planet. Tens of thousands of people have caught on to the trend over the years.

The challenge is simple: People are meant to take a photo of a location, be it a beach, park or trail, strewn with litter. Then clean the location up and take an "after" photo of their handiwork.

While the trend dates back several years, a March 5 post on Facebook from user Byron Román appears to have breathed new life and directed it toward teenagers. "Here is a new #challenge for all you bored teens," Román posted. "Take a photo of an area that needs some cleaning or maintenance, then take a photo after you have done something about it, and post it. Here are the people doing it #basurachallenge join the cause."

Here is a new #challenge for all you bored teens. Take a photo of an area that needs some cleaning or maintenance, then...

Posted by Byron Román on Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The original post, which appears to have been edited, did not include the hashtag "basurachallenge." Basura is the Spanish word for "trash." The post now has more than 316,000 shares on Facebook and Román recently created a separate Facebook page for the #basurachallenge specifically in Arizona. Román told CBS News he used the alternate hashtag, as it's "the one being used in Latin America." The #basurachallenge has been tagged in nearly 1,700 posts on Instagram.

He came across the idea of picking up trash, then taking photos for social media, in a post by the travel company Happy Tours GT.  Then, he put his own spin on it.

"Due to teens lately making the news about Tide pods, Bird Box, and now the Momo challenge. Maybe I could inspire a few to do something positive," said Román.

Román shared his post with a "before" image of a man in front of a wooded area strewn with trash, then an "after" photo of the man standing behind trash bags. These images were also shared across other social media platforms, by various accounts, with the similar message aimed at "bored teens."

Since the post, many people — including teens — have taken up the #trashtag challenge again and started cleaning up areas, then posting images to social media, across Twitter, Instagram and other social platforms. The hashtag has more than 24,000 posts on Instagram, many in the past week.

Twitter user @frizhbee posted an image of people picking up trash by the side of the road. "I don't have a before-and-after picture, but here's a couple of pictures of me with my family picking up trash from the road side whenever we made a rest stop," she wrote Saturday.

User @RMcNeil2105 posted a "before and after" image of clean-up efforts along the Potomac River, south of Washington, D.C., using the hashtag Sunday.

Others used Instagram to show off their efforts. The account horses_spb posted a gallery of photos Monday tagged to Saint Petersburg, Russia, featuring horses on a trail before and after someone appeared to have rid it of trash.

View this post on Instagram

Присоединяемся к челленджу #trashtag , фото с уборки 9.09.18 года. Фоток с конкретного места «до и после» почти нет, но мы это исправим. Перед летом пойдём вешать таблички с призывом «не мусорить», а также убирать то, что люди накидали за зиму. ⠀ Публикование фото-результатов в социальные сети может очень мотивировать многих людей к уборке мусора на природе. Отличный челлендж! ⠀ Join the challenge #trashtag, photo from the cleaning 09/09/18. There are no pictures from one particular place “before and after”, but we will change this, when the snow melts. ⠀ Publishing photos of the results in social networks can motivate many people to scavenge in nature. Great Challenge!

A post shared by Конный Петербург (@horses_spb) on

The trend has garnered steam in the past few days, but the outdoor company UCO Gear appears to have ideated the hashtag in 2015 as part of a larger project, according to a press release. "To keep nature beautiful for everyone to enjoy for decades to come, UCO has launched the UCO #TrashTag Project," the press release states. "The project is a movement that encourages fans and the general public to commit to picking up after ourselves and one another in the wilderness."

The press release said its "people ambassador" Steven Reinhold vowed to gather 100 pieces of trash during a road trip after his receipt from a recent shopping spree inadvertently flew out the window. On the way back from his trip, Reinhold pitched an expanded idea of his initial plan and "the movement began," according to the release.

While those picking up trash have used #trashtag over the years, Román's post — which is aimed directly at teens as opposed to everyone as indicated by UCO gear — has garnered a resurgence of posts. The hashtag also initially encouraged people to pick up trash in the wilderness; now many have taken to picking up trash on roadsides and other areas.

While another trend will likely take over in the coming weeks, this one seems to make the planet a bit cleaner in the meantime.