It all began four or five years ago when Bill Payden started picking up stray cans and bottles during his fitness runs past Moline’s Wharton Field House and Browning Field.

He’d take the containers home, where he and his wife, Lisa, would rinse and then take them to a recycling drop-off bin.

For them, recycling simply made sense as responsible citizens. And “we don’t like to see trash on the ground,” she says.

Random containers grew to bags-full, and the endeavor ratcheted to a new level about three years ago when Payden, a retired Moline firefighter, happened by the field house after high school graduation and saw how many receptacles had been left behind.

“We thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, look at all these cans and bottles,’ ” Lisa, a nurse with Trinity Medical Center, says. “We came back the next day.”

After that, the couple began an ongoing effort to sift through the stands and trash bins after nearly all big events such as football and basketball games. One football game this fall netted them 32 black plastic garbage bags filled with about 3,000 recyclable containers.

For their efforts, the Paydens have been recognized by the city of Moline and the Keep Moline Beautiful Commission as Recycling Hometown Heroes.

They were nominated by Kristen Bergren of the commission, who says she was “stunned” to hear about the couple’s efforts. “It shows how one person can make a difference,” she adds.

The containers are rinsed as the couple has time.

“We have kind of a system now,” Lisa says. “We unscrew the caps, drop them in a bucket, empty the sodas and rinse them, empty the waters and drop them in a sack. And then just keep doing this over and over again. It’s pretty time-intensive.”

The couple takes the caps to a beauty salon that recycles them.

The Paydens have other environmental activities as well.

This past summer, they adopted one of the gardens along Moline’s Ben Butterworth Parkway, trimming back overgrown rose bushes and bringing in hostas and cannas from their own garden. They also dry clothes on a line and, of course, they recycle everything they can.

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