Cleaning Jordan Lake — one person at a time

Posted 5/15/20

JORDAN LAKE — Daniel Toben admits that picking up trash isn’t a new idea.

But for Toben, who’s collected about 250 bags of waste and refuse from Jordan Lake in the past two weeks, it’s …

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Cleaning Jordan Lake — one person at a time

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JORDAN LAKE — Daniel Toben admits that picking up trash isn’t a new idea.

But for Toben, who’s collected about 250 bags of waste and refuse from Jordan Lake in the past two weeks, it’s taking “some responsibility in my community.”

Toben, 31, has been picking up trash, organizing others to help and promoting those efforts in Chatham, Orange and Durham counties for several years, collecting between 6,500 and 7,000 bags of trash since he began tracking about two years ago. He started taking pictures of himself cleaning up trash and placing posts on his personal Facebook page. Eventually, he created a GoFundMe page called “Mission to Beautify Our Communities.” A year and a half later, was able to buy a truck to be a “designated trash truck.” He’s been organizing groups to do clean-ups and has even led a class of students from the Creative Schools of Apex on a Jordan Lake clean-up last year.

These days, he’s making it his mission to clean up Jordan Lake since organized clean-up sessions, such as those by the non-profit group Clean Jordan Lake, are being canceled or postponed due to COVID-19.

It’s been a passion of his for some time. He recalled being a student at N.C. State studying mechanical engineering in 2009. A stream outside his dorm flowed with floating bottles. So Toben started cleaning out the stream on his own.

“I was just a student and different people started to notice and started to help,” he said. “I wanted to do something hands-on and make an impact. I wanted to figure out ways I may be able to help the environment and what I found I could really make the most impact by trying to beautifying that natural areas around me. I just got into that as my hobby.”

Since then, Toben’s free time — away from his job managing a sandwich shop in Chapel Hill — has been spent finding new ways to organize his clean-ups. He uses a downloadable phone application called Fulcrum that tracks every location he and volunteers clean. They track the location, the number of bags collected and take pictures to show the impact.

As his work time has been dramatically reduced during the pandemic, Toben is now spending between four and eight hours most days at the lake.

“I’m far enough away from other people I feel safe from the virus,” he said. “I’m in my own realm for a while. And it just gives me an incredible sense of pride to know that I’m cleaning up. I have a sense of accomplishment. When the beach is all clean, it’s not just cleaner, but safer too. The idea of that makes me happy [during COVID].”

Toben said that friends who have participated in clean-ups have gone from “feeling isolated to by the end amped and enthusiastic.”

And he notes that anyone can do it on their own.

“You can get the right kind of gloves and trash bags at any gas station and just do it yourself,” Toben said. “It’s not bad work. It’s kind of fun to do. And in terms of being environmentally positive, this is a pretty good thing to do. Because plastic lasts for 500 years and when do it, you’ve cleaned something up that would have been there for 500 years.”

You can find Toben on the website he created for his clean up efforts at He also suggests reaching out to him using social media on Facebook at or on Instagram at

“And if you’re reading this,” Toben said. “Don’t litter.”

Casey Mann can be reached at


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