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Japanese swoop on Paris rubbish

THE volunteers, from school age to middle age, gather outside the Musee d'Orsay. They don emerald-green vests and mustard-colored cleaning gloves, methodically disperse and get to work.

No directive is given. The only audible noise comes from their metal pincers scraping the surface of every sullied crevice between the stone steps of the famous art museum.

These men and women belong to an army of environmentalists who have made it their job to rid Paris' legendary monuments and streets of cigarette butts, food scraps, dog droppings and other indignities. But most of the volunteers are not in fact French - they're Japanese.

Greenbird Paris is the first overseas wing of a Tokyo-based non-profit company that has spread its anti-pollution message in Japanese neighborhoods since 2003. The Paris group launched in March 2007 to clean up a city that has long been a favorite tourist destination for the Japanese.

"When I first arrived at Roissy airport, it was a shock for me, because Japanese people dream of Paris as being a beautiful city," said Mami Osafune, a 27-year-old psychology student who has lived in Paris for three years and been a Greenbird member since 2008.

"When we find such trash, it doesn't give a good image. So that's why I got involved."

Participant Yoshiko Inai, a customer service officer from Paris' outer suburbs, explained that while "the Paris city hall does its best, Parisians by habit pollute the streets." The French seem to agree.

One man at the Musee d'Orsay stops to shake hands with the Greenbirds. "Congratulations and bravo!" he said in passing. Others laugh, stare, stop to take photos or just ask questions. French Greenbird Heloise Briere, a project manager at a Paris business school, says that while some onlookers are hostile, most are admiring. But she notes the sharp difference between admiration and action.

"People are encouraging, but when they have to make the path, it's different," she said. "They say, 'the Japanese are doing it so we don't have to'."

By the time the Greenbirds are done at the Musee d'Orsay by the Seine River, they have filled several plastic bags with the neighborhood's trash - cigarette butts, discarded metro tickets, scraps of food, tissues and coffee cups. They throw the bags into garbage bins.

The group's efforts have not gone unnoticed by the Paris City Hall which earlier this month launched its own campaign to fight the filth.


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