Milwaukee man's clean-up walks inspire a book

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Jim Bauernfeind started walking for exercise years ago, but he couldn't just walk past all of the trash he saw in his Milwaukee neighborhood. So, for years, he's been picking it up, and keeping track of what he's found.

In fact, Bauernfeind has become such an expert, he's written a book about it, documenting all of the things he's seen on his "clean-up walks."

Each walk is pretty similar. There's a rhythm and a method to his walks.

"I learned a long time ago that I wasn't going to be able to walk by the trash that accumulates," Bauernfeind said.

His walk takes him on a two-and-a-half-mile loop near his Milwaukee home.  

What started as a way to get exercise has instead become something of a calling.

"This is my 14th season," he said.

That’s 14 years of chip bags, crushed cans and cigarette butts.

"Oh, hey. Here's one," he exclaimed as he reached to pick it up.

Bauernfeind has an eye for detail.  

"You wouldn't believe all of the kinds of things I keep track of," he said.

Those cigarette butts? In 2020, he picked up nearly 18,000 of them. It's all cataloged in his book, "Take my Trash, Please."

"I've heard many times in my life that everybody has a book inside of them, just waiting to be written," he said.

So, during the pandemic, he put his to paper.

"Well, I divide the book into 6 chapters, who, what, when, where, why and how. The journalistic questions," he explained.

The "What" chapter yields some interesting finds.

"One time I found 14 rolls of toilet paper sitting along the side of the road stacked up in three or four stacks," he said. "Another time, I found five unfrozen, frozen pizzas."

His brother, Bill Bauernfeind, served as his editor.

"I'm just really proud," Bill said. "Everything has passed through me on to Jim!"

Brotherly joking aside, Bill is impressed with his brother's efforts.

"I'm just so glad he's getting this recognition, because he deserves it," Bill said.

But what you don't see when Jim is out on the side of the road, is all of the other volunteer work he does.

"Currently I'm doing 8 different volunteer things," he said. "I go to Versiti and help with emergency blood deliveries. On Monday mornings, I go to church and I vacuum the sanctuary."

And then there's Monday afternoons.

"I go to St. Joe's Hospital and I hold babies. Fussy babies. In the NICU unit," he explained. "Because I've never been married and don't have children, I've directed those feelings toward others."

Wherever he goes, Bauernfeind's efforts add up.

"I've picked up 645 bags of this size," he said, unfurling a garbage bag.

With each step, another piece of trash is added to the tally. The neighborhood a little cleaner, and his world, a better place.

"I have a heart to serve others and I just felt that was a way that I could serve the community," he said.

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