16,740 pieces of plastic: York City man cleaning up the Susquehanna River

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

Just before 10 a.m. on a cloudy Sunday morning, York City native John Naylor steps shoes-first into the Susquehanna River. By noon, he's collected an old toilet tank, a wooden owl statue and dozens of Styrofoam pieces and plastic bottles.

It's all part of Naylor's efforts to clean up the longest river on the East Coast. 

“I have a real fondness for the deep beauty of our environment that we live in," Naylor said. “I have a pretty fair appreciation for the Susquehanna and our worldwide environment in general. I think it's in peril — it really is."

Naylor's efforts to clean up the Susquehanna started 20 years ago when he casually joined litter cleanup groups. Since, he's become passionate for sustainability by limiting his use of plastic, drying his clothing naturally and living by the philosophy of reduce, reuse and recycle.

He now aims to spread that awareness — which got serious for him in 2017 after he started an Instagram page to document his progress.

Now, the Starbucks Roasting Plant employee goes out on the Susquehanna River about once or twice a week to clean it up.

John Naylor, of York City, paddles in his canoe along a tributary on the Susquehanna River on Sunday, July 18, 2021. Tina Locurto photo.

“I've always wanted to do what I'm doing now," Naylor said. “I'm just a guy doing what I can do. I pick things up and put them in a trash dumpster."

Since his journey started four years ago, he's picked up roughly 16,740 single-use plastic bags and bottles.

Naylor said he doesn't want to take all the credit, however. He's often joined by friends like Millersville professor Justin Mando who share his love of picking up litter. While it can be physically draining work, Naylor said he enjoys the time spent doing something to make a difference.

John Naylor (left) and Justin Mando (right) discuss their progress picking up trash along an embankment on the Susquehanna River on Sunday, July 18, 2021. Tina Locurto photo.

"It really means a lot that some of my friends support me," Naylor said. “I go out or we go out, and it's fun. It's a fun thing to do, and you almost always feel good.”

Though Naylor's hobby is casual for the most part, he's also set goals for himself, with fundraising components going toward the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association.

Most recently, Naylor was challenged to collect 100 tires throughout the month of June. 

Most recently, John Naylor was challenged to collect 100 tires throughout the month of June. With the help of his friends, he met his goal and raised over $2,500 for the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association in the process. Credit: Micheal Yatsco

"I didn't know if I could physically do it," Naylor said of the challenge. "They're heavy. It takes a lot of effort."

With the help of his friends, Naylor met his goal and raised over $2,500 for the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association in the process.

“It's just a beautiful place to be, and if I can put some effort into making it a little bit nicer and bring some other people with me — that's really what I'm trying to do," Naylor said.

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.