MONTPELIER, Vt. — It will be a few weeks before all the bags are counted, but Green Up Day organizers are thinking 2021 might have been a big year for trash.
Green Up Day is the annual event where volunteers across the state spend the first Saturday in May picking up trash along the roadsides. Last year was its 50th anniversary, and though the pandemic put a damper on the planned celebrations, Green Up volunteers managed to get out and clean on the last Saturday in May instead.
“Many towns are reporting record numbers of both volunteers and amounts of trash picked up,” said Kate Alberghini, executive director of Green Up Vermont, on Monday. “There are a few towns that say their roads have been cleaner than ever, but weren’t sure why. They didn’t know if it was people not traveling to work or whatever, but many towns are reporting a high volume in volunteers getting out and helping and more trash.”
She said the week before Green Up Day 2021 several towns were already requesting more bags. Barre City, and Washington were among them. “... so I spent the week basically trying to figure out how to get more bags out to these towns, which was great,” she said.
Some towns report what they collected faster than others, she said. Last year saw 14,000 volunteers collecting 241 tons of trash. It might be another six weeks before the 2021 data is all in.
The coronavirus pandemic was a little over a month old by early May of last year.
“It was postponed mainly due to our supply channels for the green bags,” Alberghini said. She emailed the Green Up Day coordinators to ask how they wished to proceed and 80% said they wished to continue. It led to a somewhat impersonal event, but the trash was picked up all the same. This year wasn’t a complete return to normal, she said, but kids were back in school and were able to help.
“We added a few more contests this year, so above the poster contest and writing contest, we added a jingle contest and a video contest,” she said. “... but it was nice to get kids back in school and teachers talking about it and promoting Green Up Day.”
This year, Green Up Vermont also partnered with the U.S. Forest Service to mark the 50th anniversary of Woodsy Owl, a character similar to Smokey Bear, but with a focus on littering rather than wildfire prevention, said Alberghini.
“I wouldn’t say it was quiet back to 2019, but there was a ton of enthusiasm,” said Guinevere Fredrikson, science teacher at Spaulding High School and Green Up Day coordinator for Barre City. “We handed out over 700 bags to the community.”
Some of the bags went out to neighboring rural towns, she said. Besides what was left on the roadside for collection, a full size trash bin was filled by volunteers. She said it was chilly Saturday morning, so many volunteers went out in the afternoon, or Sunday.
“I think it was up from last year,” she said. “I’m not sure it was quite at 2019 level, but I also think the amount of litter also corresponds with those numbers. I feel like there was less litter than there was in 2019, I think just as a result of people being locked in their houses for so long.”
Barre City Mayor Lucas Herring said he challenged the city council to collect 50 bags between them, saying he’d collect 51 himself. He said on Monday that this year he’s managed to hit his goal and believes each council member has collected at least one bag. He said the city did a Green Up event in the fall of 2020 as well. Herring thanked the Department of Public Works and downtown groups for picking up cigarette butts, which are plentiful and difficult to gather.
Brian Sales, outreach coordinator for the Rutland County Solid Waste District, said that in Rutland City, 65 volunteers covered 5.2 square miles, collecting 40 bags of trash. Come Alive Outside, Downtown Rutland Partnership, the Richards Group, Rutland Rotary, Grow Vermont, Rutland Dismas House, NewStory Center, and Casella all had volunteers out, he said.
This was Sales’ first Green Up Day, having come here from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and taking up his role at the district in August.
“I think it’s a wonderful yearly initiative, I’ve seen the impact driving around to all of our district towns,” he said. “Vermonters really take the environment and clean spaces very seriously, so I commend that.”