LIVINGSTON, NJ — Livingston native Jason Cohen, a local realtor at Coldwell Banker who has been passionate about keeping litter off the streets of Livingston for the last few years, recently became known for these efforts as he started extending the invitation to other residents to join in bi-monthly Saturday-morning cleanups.
Cohen, who was publicly recognized by the Livingston Township Council last week for setting a good example for the community, currently resides in Denville and cleans up the streets of both towns on alternating Saturdays, weather permitting.
Over the last few months, Cohen has been posting photos of his endeavors in Livingston—not to gloat about his good deeds but to motivate others to join the cause. Although he recognized the significance of living by the phrase, “When you see something, say something,” Cohen wants others to adopt his philosophy of, “When you see something, do something.”
"When I can drive past these spots with my kids and say, ‘Hey remember the garbage that was there? It’s not there anymore because of me,’ it makes me feel like a million bucks,” said Cohen, who has three sons are between the ages of five and 10. “It’s something that makes me feel good, it’s an example to my kids, [and] a lot of people have joined the charge in Denville. It’s been an initiative that’s really gained some momentum, so now I want to do it for the town that I lived in, that I graduated high school in and that I’m still in every day working."
Cohen explained that his passion for keeping the streets clean began a few years ago when he pulled up to a listed property in Livingston for an open house and observed that the street was lined with garbage that he didn’t want the visitors to see.
“It’s incumbent upon realtors to do community service,” said Cohen, whose business card introduces him as The Nice Guy in Real Estate. “Some do it like I do with blood sweat and tears, [and] some do it with their checkbook…I’ve become very passionate about getting the paper, recyclables—and whatever else blew away from someone’s garbage or escaped a dumpster—off the roads."
Now living by the motto “Fill just one bag,” Cohen encourages community members to either join him or tell him about specific spots in town that can use his attention.
Keeping streets tidy can be a dicey job, according to Cohen, who sometimes returns home with his hands scratched up and an aching back. But whether it’s 19 degrees or sweltering outside, Cohen said he enjoys the feeling of doing his part to keep the streets clean.
Cohen reported that he has filled as many as 17 large bags of garbage during a single session of litter removal. He noted that he keeps industrial-size boxes of garbage bags at his house and has enlisted a few people with pick-up trucks to help him transport the refuse he collects when it does not fit in his own car.
The project Cohen currently calls his “Sistine Chapel” is cleaning the route from Walnut Street to South Orange Avenue, making his way to Old Short Hills Road and eventually JFK Parkway. Problem areas that Cohen has previously tackled include Beaufort Avenue, Hobart Gap Road, East Cedar Parkway and other main roads that visitors often travel on their way through Livingston.
“The more people who will join the charge with me, the sooner we’ll get ahead of it,” said Cohen. “The garbage is not going to go away. It’s going to keep coming back. Sometimes that’s a little discouraging, but all I can do is what I can do.”
During last week’s township council meeting, Councilman Michael Vieira commended Cohen for continuing to take pride in a community he no longer lives in and urged others to follow his example.
“On behalf of the town council, I just want to thank you very much for what you do,” said Vieira. “You don’t have to do it, you don’t live in our town, but you care about our town, so it’s just amazing what you’re doing.”
Mayor Shawn Klein, who spearheaded the annual “Pick It Up! Livingston” community cleanup initiative, spoke about the satisfaction that hundreds of residents have felt during those events as they filled full garbage trucks of pollution in a matter of hours.
“You’re a man after my own heart,” said Klein, who has been a champion of the environment during his years on the council. “[Pick It Up! Livingston] is not an every other week thing like you’re doing, [but] you’re 100% right that it feels great to look back at the clean area behind you after you’ve been cleaning up, and you’re sweaty, and then you get in that shower and you just feel like you did something worthwhile.”
Cohen said he will continue to post on various Facebook groups every other week to let people know where he will be that weekend and invite them to join. Recognizing his 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. cleaning time as being early for most, Cohen urged anyone who is able, willing and “comfortable in their own skin enough to go out and pick up garbage” on their own time to “please join the charge.”
“If anyone is able to go out and just fill one bag—whether it’s a plastic grocery bag from ShopRite, whether it’s a tall kitchen bag or whether it’s one of these contractor bags—sometimes you can fill up a bag in 20 minutes,” he said. “I find it’s a great way to kick off my weekend. It really gets me pumped up, it’s good exercise, [and] you don’t know how good you’re going to feel until you get out there and do it...Let’s get after it together.”
For those who are unable to join Cohen’s efforts on Saturday mornings are encouraged to consider picking up litter locally on their own. Cohen also urged residents to help keep their neighborhoods clean by keeping dumpster flaps closed at all times and bringing their garbage to the curb in the morning so that it doesn’t get knocked over or blown away overnight.
“A lot of the garbage [we pick up] is pollution, but it’s not all litterbugs throwing stuff out their windows,” said Cohen. “I can’t tell you how many Amazon boxes we’ve found—stuff that was responsibly thrown out, but maybe not with the most common sense...There’s always going to be a percentage of garbage that comes from people just not caring and being slobs, and I can’t help that; but what I can do is ask people to take a more common-sense approach to how they throw out their garbage."
Anyone interested in joining Cohen for his next cleaning session or advising him about problem areas in Livingston should call or text him directly at 973-495-9055.
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