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San Franciscans skip Tinder to find love at this trashy singles event

Refuse Refuse founder Vince Yuen walks with a cleanup attendee in the Marina on Thursday. | Liz Lindqwister/The Standard

San Francisco can be a dirty city at times, depending on where you’re standing. It’s also a dating hellhole, depending on who you ask. 

Now you can have the full filthy-San Francisco-meets-dating experience at a singles-only trash pickup event.

The singles group met Thursday to meander through the Marina District, picking up garbage—and potentially a date. The event was one of the roughly 1,000 trash cleanups hosted by Refuse Refuse, a local cleanup organization dedicated to making SF’s famously grimy streets squeaky clean. 

“No, I didn’t come for the singles thing,” said Lauren Molina, an audiologist and attendee at Thursday’s cleanup. “I came for the trash. But it would be a nice little story, yeah?”

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The group was small, with just seven attendees, most of whom were younger women. Refuse Refuse founder Vince Yuen has expanded the cleanups to target specific affinity groups, like SF’s singletons, dog owners or disco partiers. 

Lindsay picks up garbage at a singles trash cleanup in the Marina on Thursday. | Liz Lindqwister/The Standard

“Given the makeup of who’s here, I’m not surprised. I actually told my friend that it’s probably going to be mostly girls,” said Lindsay, a climate policy analyst. “My overall assessment of straight men that live here is there doesn’t seem to be a lot of urgency to settle down—the Peter Pan thing. […] Guys don’t want to grow up, and they don’t really have to here.”

Still, for others, the priority was all trash and no Tinder: Attendee Jessica Palmer had picked up gallons of garbage at over a dozen other Refuse Refuse events; and an older man named Marinus, who wished to have his last name omitted, simply wanted to see his beloved San Francisco sparkle again. 

“When I was a kid in ’67, and the world felt like it was almost falling down, I thought only one thing that came out of that year that was positive—it was San Francisco and the Summer of Love,” Marinus said.

“I don’t have relatives and friends here, but I do this for myself to have a good feeling," Marinus added. "All I care about is cleaning, and maybe a bit of socializing."   

Marinus, a Marina resident, cleans up trash around his neighborhood on Thursday. | Liz Lindqwister/The Standard

Refuse Refuse estimates it has picked up 270,000 gallons of trash since its 2021 founding, and the organization has partnered with animal welfare groups, schools and local businesses to host sponsored pickups.

“In my 20s, I wasn’t volunteering outside of like corporate off-site volunteering days,” Yuen said. “But now, most of us find the time, and you’ll feel rewarded and make some friends at the same time.” 

The regular non-singles cleanups tend to attract anywhere from 30 to 60 attendees, and the events have helped some volunteer-minded folks form important values-based relationships in the Bay Area, organizers said. 

Jessica Palmer holds a trash bag with the phrase, "Love Your City," printed on the front. | Liz Lindqwister/The Standard

Yuen, for his part, envisions a future where every San Franciscan actively works to keep their neighborhoods spotless. He's delighted to be at the center of SF's dirtiest problem, even in a city whose trash-collecting efforts have been mired with controversy.

"I'm the real Mr. Clean in SF—not the one who's going to jail," Yuen joked.

Anyone can attend future Refuse Refuse cleanups at neighborhoods across San Francisco. Interested folks can RSVP here.