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Gator alum aims to make an impact through a single word

#UNLITTER promotes a positive environment through events, projects, education and community awareness as a registered nonprofit organization. (Mariana Pena Rueda/WUFT News)
#UNLITTER promotes a positive environment through events, projects, education and community awareness as a registered nonprofit organization. (Mariana Pena Rueda/WUFT News)

The Matheson History Museum closed out the month of November with a presentation from Sabina Osman, the founder of a movement seeking to impact the community and the environment through a word. 

“I'm going to take you guys through an analogy here,” Osman said at the museum Wednesday night.

Imagine a tree, she said in front of an audience of more than 20 people. She explained all the parts that make up one: the fruit, the leaves, the branches and the trunk. But before that tree became what it is today, the roots marked its beginning.

And at the roots of this tree, she said there was just a single word: unlitter.

“We don't know where it came from,” she said. “But it stuck for sure.”

A word, she said, that caught on with those around her and sparked the movement called #UNLITTER. The movement seeks to “inspire and empower people to clean up daily routines, habits and mindsets” according to its website.

A Miami native, Osman is a double Gator with a passion for surfing and a love for the environment. She moved to Gainesville to pursue a degree in Sustainability Studies, where she also focused on other sciences such as anthropology, meteorology and climatology. She also attended Hough Graduate School of Business at the University of Florida until her graduation in 2018.

She created the movement with 100 stickers with the name in black uppercase letters against a white background. She would pass them around to those using water bottles or those she saw picking up trash.

“The concept was as simple as that,” she stated. “If you're walking down the street and see something on the floor, pick it up, make the environment cleaner.”

And as people got their hands on these stickers and more people began to join the cause, she said she began receiving pictures of people holding the trash they picked from the ground. The pictures led to the creation of an Instagram account and what she described as a “positive momentum.”

“People started to get really inspired and take action,” she said.

And the movement began to reach even those outside the university’s campus.

For 23-year-old Shannon Sawtell, the stickers found her even miles away from Gainesville.

Sawtell is the director of the internship program, operations and events coordinator at #UNLITTER and a former executive director of its UF chapter. But before taking on these roles, the movement made a way into her life when she found a sticker stuck on a surfboard rack in Jupiter, Florida.

After a quick search on social media and a direct message, she began Jupiter’s chapter in her high school.

“It changed my life,” she said.

Suddenly, Osman said the movement’s name was in graffities adorning the walls or even in 3D printed stencils, in a time they were not that common. But for the most part, the word became a topic of conversation about the environment.

“To have an intellectually stimulating conversation, to talk about what is the cutting edge of sustainability and what impact does this water bottle [with an #UNLITTER sticker on] have on the environment,” she said. “This is something that is so powerful.”

“You don’t think it can work like that, but it can,” 22-year-old Vivian Powell said.

She is a member of the social media team. She has been involved with the UF chapter since she found them on Instagram her freshman year. However, she could not immerse herself into the club as much as she wished her first year because of COVID-19.

One time, she said, she brought her water bottle with the sticker on to an event, where she began talking about #UNLITTER.

Someone, she said, saw her passion about the movement, and it sparked his interest.

“He said ‘Your eyes light up when you talk about this,’” she recalled. “‘Tell me more.’”

Six years later, the movement has reached international levels according to Osman. She said the movement along with its members continues to promote respect for oneself and the environment through events, projects, education and community awareness as a registered nonprofit organization.

“There are so many facets of it that it gives different types of people the opportunity to represent the movement in their own way,” she said.

In the past, these opportunities included beach cleanups, thrifting events in collaboration with other on-campus organizations or partnerships with other like-minded organizations.

Unique opportunities also included the trip to Costa Rica guided by members and the mural of collected bottle caps by the UF chapter, which was recognized by the city of Gainesville. She said the mural is now hanging at city hall.

But even disconnecting from one’s phone, she said, can promote what the movement stands for: a positive world.

“It's crucial that we, that we just, like, reconnect with the peace on earth because having that intention creates a more positive world,” Osman said.  “It allows people to create a more positive future.”

She said “the word unlitter really is to, like, reverse the negativity” in your unique way.

And she said the movement can change your perception about concepts hard to grasp like climate change.

“A lot of sustainability nowadays is focused on this huge global thing that seems so hard to grasp,” Osman said. “But it really is like, very personal, like every single human being has such a strong impact on the environment around them.”

“It changes from being this thing that’s just so hard to conceptualize into something that you feel when you use less stuff,” she said. “You feel better.”

For Powell, the organization has awakened her hope for the future.

“Climate issues seem very negative,” she said. “Now, we’re making a difference daily.”

Mariana is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing