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Retired mail carrier cleans up streets

ST. PAUL (AP) — The gardens and architecture of St. Paul’s Hamline-Midway neighborhood barely get a glance during Steve Dalbec’s daily walks.

Instead, Dalbec scans the gutters, the sidewalks and the street.

When he spots a cigarette butt, he leans over to pick it up. He does the same for a piece of broken Styrofoam, a bright-red Airheads Raspberry Lemonade candy wrapper and a takeout bag from McDonald’s.

He deposits them all in his makeshift trash can — a black Iron-Hold trash bag in an upside-down metal lampshade frame attached to his black leather belt — and heads on down the street.

“I’d rather do this than just walking because you get some exercise,” said Dalbec, who used to walk for miles daily when he delivered mail for the Postal Service. Now retired, he walks to keep in shape, and keep his neighborhood clean. And he catalogs what he finds.

“I’ve been to gyms and stuff, and that didn’t work. It just didn’t feel right — you’re not accomplishing anything. This is way better exercise. You’re bending, and you’re carrying weight because this will get real heavy sometimes,” he told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Dalbec keeps detailed tallies of his finds in a computer spreadsheet. So far this year, he’s picked up 5,368 cigarette butts and found $3.37 in 38 outings, or an average of 141 butts and 9 cents a day, he said.

“I get a lot of these,” he said, bending over to pick up a dirty Q-tip. “But you know what the worst things are? Those plastic flossing things for teeth. With the handles? I wish they wouldn’t make those.”

Cigarette butts and cigarette packs are the bane of his existence; he once picked up 634 cigarette butts in one day. “They’re smoking more now, I think, because of their nerves,” he said. “People don’t want to bring them in the house and throw them away.”

Members of a church in the neighborhood used to drop their cigarette butts on the ground until one of the elders saw Dalbec picking them up. “I picked up 400 that day, and most were at that church,” Dalbec said.

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