The Atlanta Magnet Man is clearing metal debris from city streets

Alex Benigno collected 410 pounds of debris in just his first eight weeks

Atlanta Magnet Man
Alex Benigno, aka Atlanta Magnet Man, showing off a recent haul

Photograph courtesy of Alex Benigno

Have you found a nail in your tire recently? You’re not alone. Luckily, Alex Benigno—aka Atlanta Magnet Man—is here to help. With a bicycle and a whole lot of magnets, Benigno has become the city’s de facto metallic debris collector, picking up screws, iron scraps, and all the other miscellaneous rusty hazards that litter Atlanta’s streets.

Benigno got the idea for his roving magnet in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, when he found himself one of the few people out driving on the roads. Over the course of two months, he got multiple nails in each car tire, and even a few in his motorcycle, which got him thinking, How is this happening? Benigno decided that if he didn’t pick up Atlanta’s street metal, no one would.

“I hate looking at a problem and saying, Meh, not my job,” says Benigno.“That’s not the kind of person I am.” He bought a small trailer to hitch to his bicycle, along with some magnets, which he affixed to the bottom of the trailer’s metal frame. From there, he attached a brush to help dislodge metal parts stuck in sand and gravel, which allowed him to more than double his uptake. After perfecting it last December, Benigno began riding his contraption as much as he could.

In his first eight weeks of trips, Benigno totaled 55 rides, 522 miles, and 410 pounds of collected debris. He’s given most of this junk metal to artist Laura S. Lewis, who has turned it into stunning sculptures and wall art, including a sly “trash fox.” Benigno has drawn much local excitement, to his surprise: Drivers honk and cheer as he rides by, and a fan once stopped him on the street for an impromptu greeting. His Instagram page has attracted over 28,000 followers. “I had no idea that what I was getting myself into was going to be this popular,” Benigno says. “I’ve had people saying, ‘Oh, I’m on the other side of the world; I want to do this.’”

Atlanta Magnet Man
Alex Benigno

Photograph courtesy of Alex Benigno

Benigno never comes back from a bike mission empty-handed. “This stuff is literally everywhere—every neighborhood, everywhere you can think of,” he says. “And nothing’s being done. The street sweepers are picking up trash, but the metal just kind of gets tossed around and thrown back into the road. Then it goes back in the gutter.”

Benigno’s plan is simple: just keep riding, and create safer streets for all. While he admits it’s nice to receive thanks from so many city residents, he maintains that this project has never been about him. “If I never gained any recognition, I would still be doing this,” Benigno says. “My goal is to get as many nails and screws off the road as I can, for everybody’s benefit.”

This article appears in our June 2024 issue.