POMFRET, Vt. — This year’s annual Source to Sea Cleanup, organized by the Connecticut River Conservancy (CRC), continued the tradition of cleaning up rivers despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“More and more people turned to their rivers this summer, since social distancing limited other activities,” said Stacey Lennard, CRC’s Cleanup coordinator. “Unfortunately, the increased use led to more trash in many locations. It was clear the Source to Sea Cleanup was needed, it just had to be different this year.”

The volunteer event was expanded from the typical 2-days to the entire month of September. Hundreds of volunteers with masks, work gloves, and trash bags gathered in small groups across the four-state Connecticut River basin (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont) from Stratford, New Hampshire, near the Canadian border all the way to Old Saybrook, Connecticut, near the Long Island Sound.

“Source to Sea Cleanup volunteers’ hard work and dedication is inspiring and makes a real difference for our rivers. We were heartened to see volunteers rallying to protect their rivers from trash pollution,” Lennard said. “Everyone was happy to get outside to connect with nature while also making a big difference for their communities. And they shared their photos and stories online to connect with each other in a new way using #RiverWitness.”

Groups included local river and conservation groups; elementary, high school, and college students; Girl and Boy Scouts; and many employee volunteer groups from local businesses.

Final trash totals are still being tallied. Drought conditions across the region lowered water levels and revealed trash that had been hidden underwater for decades. One aspect of the Source to Sea Cleanup that wasn’t possible this year was coordination to remove large debris like abandoned cars and boats, an oil pipe and platform, tanks, and multiple tire dumps.

“Large items like these require special equipment and coordination. Some require permits,” said Andrew Fisk, CRC’s executive director. “If anyone wants to help out and has boats, large trucks, winches, or SCUBA skills, please get in touch.”

Now, focus shifts to preventing trash in the first place. While the Cleanup event is over for this year, CRC continues to work on trash pollution year-round.

“Our work isn’t done until we put ourselves out of the river clean-up business,” Fisk said.

After cleaning up more than 1,167 tons of trash over the past 23 years, CRC argues that repeated cleaning is not the solution to our trash problem. CRC is working with partners across New England on laws and policies that will improve recycling, redesign our single-use economy to prevent waste, and extend producer responsibility to include the entire life cycle of products.

“We all have a responsibility to solve this problem—individuals, manufacturers, businesses, and government,” Fisk said. “We need to show our legislators, businesses, and manufacturers just how bad the problem is and tell them – as their constituents and customers – that we can’t ignore this problem any longer. We’ve been doing our part for 24 years by cleaning up our rivers. It’s time they finally do their part in helping solve our trash problem. These ideas are going to take time, decades even. And we’ll keep at it as long as it takes. But our rivers need us to start now.”

Eversource, USA Waste & Recycling, and All American Waste are the Lead Source to Sea Cleanup sponsors.

“Sustaining the environment for generations to come drives our decisions as a family and company,” said Frank M. Antonacci, COO of USA Waste & Recycling. “The Source to Sea Cleanup is very special to us – our family of employees and their families participate in this cleanup year after year and we donate dumpster services to ensure the waste collected is disposed of in a responsible manner. CRC does a great job organizing and we are proud to be a part of it!”

“We take great care to promote conservation and protection of wildlife, natural and cultural resources and strive to foster the long-term vitality of the land we manage,” said Eversource Manager of Sustainability Clare Connolly. “Working with the CRC at their Source to Sea Cleanup event helps to sustain healthy rivers and protect important natural resources.”

Since 1952, Connecticut River Conservancy has been the voice for the Connecticut River watershed, from source to sea. They collaborate with partners across four states to protect and advocate for your rivers and educate and engage communities. They bring people together to prevent pollution, improve habitat, and promote enjoyment of your river and its tributary streams. Healthy rivers support healthy economies. To learn more about CRC, or to make a contribution to help protect your rivers, visit www.ctriver.org.

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