“Luke Jovin and Gennadiy Lemeza have lived in Missoula almost their entire lives, and have always seen trash in the forests where they like to spend time.
They usually pick up as much garbage as they can, but last spring during the pandemic they decided to get serious and form a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to address the longstanding problem.
Now, with Woods Not Waste, they’re busy taking tens of thousands of pounds of illegally dumped materials from natural areas and putting it in the landfill where it belongs.
“Last year we collected 17,000 pounds of trash,” Jovin explained. “It started as a little grassroots thing doing something that needed to be addressed, but it’s taken off more.”
They’ve found mattresses, old couches, safes, medical waste and thousands of pounds of beer cans and soda bottles. Usually, one person drives Jovin’s pickup while the other holds the side of the truck and hops down periodically to pick up trash. On the nonprofit’s Facebook page, they post photos of giant loads of garbage they’ve cleaned over the years. There are rotten mattresses, stoves and pallets.
“We like to be out in the woods, and we hate seeing trash,” Lemeza explained. “We don’t like to see it. Nobody does. It sucks.”
Both have other jobs that keep them busy. Lemeza works for a mold abatement company and Jovian owns Sakura Warrior Arts. But they decided they wanted to start making a difference.
“We’re just two guys that grew up here and hike around a lot and spend a lot of time in the woods,” Jovin explained. “We saw a lot of trash and decided that an organization should spearhead it, and so we started a nonprofit.”
Their original motivation was to help people pay fees associated with dumping at the landfill.
“The reason why people are dumping in the woods a lot of times is because they can’t afford or don’t want to pay dump fees,” Jovin said. “So we set up a 501(c)(3) to help people pay dump fees.”
Jovin’s mom is a bookkeeper, and helped them apply for grants. They’ve received donations from many different organizations and private donors in town, including the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation.
Republic Services has allowed them to dump a certain amount for free at the landfill as well. Chad Bauer, the municipal manager for Republic Services, said the company donates resources every year to organizations to help clean up trash.
“It’s a community service to help keep the Missoula area clean,” Bauer said.
Jovin said they’re still learning how to operate as a nonprofit.
“We never set up a nonprofit before,” Jovin said. “We’ve expanded it to do other things. The main focus is to do a lot of cleanup projects. We’ve gotten huge community support.”