Volunteers from Keep Newton Beautiful gathered at the Newton Highlands station June 22, equipped with safety vests, trash pickers and garbage bags, to clean up the heavily littered tracks along the MBTA D-line from Newton Highlands to Newton Centre.
Neil Rhein, the executive director of Keep Massachusetts Beautiful, said during summer, vegetation covers up trash.
“Coming fall, winter and early spring, it’s on full display,” Rhein said in an interview.
Yigal Agam, the director of Keep Newton Beautiful and a data scientist for a biotech company who has lived in Newton for 13 years, said he is constantly wanting to find a way to deal with trash, as he is driving, running, or biking around the city.
“There were always excuses not to do it. No one has time,” Agam said in an interview. “But at some point I got fed up and decided it’s time to do something.”
Agam recently started a Facebook group for Newton residents to share their experiences and document the trash they pick up outside.
“It doesn’t take much to notice. You just need to take a walk, and it’s cigarette butts all over the place. In parks and playgrounds, there are water bottles and candy wrappers,” Agam said. “Some of it has been there for ages.”
After about a month of group members going to different locations to pick up trash, Agam eyed more community focused projects.
He said he reached out to Keep Massachusetts Beautiful, a state level affiliate of Keep America Beautiful, a nonprofit organization, and then started a local chapter, Keep Newton Beautiful.
For the group’s first event, organizers took advantage of D-line closures for maintenance and planned a two-day trash pick-up event along the tracks. Agam said he reached out to the city and MBTA to get access to the track area.
Agam said the amount of trash on the tracks was “unbelievable” and “shocking.” In about a mile of tracks, he said in a Facebook post, volunteers found shopping carts, drink containers, old signs, and collected many bags of trash.
Jerry Reilly, a Newton resident who volunteered June 22, said he saw many “crazy” and “weird” items that have been there for years.
“Every so often there’s a road that crosses over the tracks, and every time that happens there would be whole pile of stuff — people throw things over the bridge,” Reilly said.
The MBTA has launched campaigns to reduce litter on tracks, as they might cause electrical fires and force the trains to shut down.
One of challenges for MBTA, according to Angel Peña, chief of the Green Line Transformation, is actually “finding the time to do this work,” as they “work 20 hours out of the 24 hours to provide service.”
Keep Newton Beautiful’s volunteer efforts to pick up trash during track closures is one solution.
“I think what this shows is our commitment to always find opportunities,” Peña said in an interview.
Peña said he was grateful for the volunteers who worked in hot weather during a pandemic. He said they made sure volunteers were safe when they were on tracks, and had protection equipment such as masks.
Agam said the trash pick-up is only a start.
“Even if everyone was as troubled as I am about trash, we would still have a lot of trash — because the problem is that we produce so much trash,” Agam said.
Agam said bottle refunds likely play a role. According to the state Department of Environmental Protection, people can’t get deposits back on regular water bottles, but they can cash in on carbonated soft drinks, beer, malt beverages and sparkling water.
“Even that tiny, 5-cent deposit makes a big difference,” he said.
Rhein of Keep Massachusetts Beautiful, said he is also searching for a solution to reduce litter.
“With a little education and enforcement, it could probably be reduced significantly,” Rhein said.
Keep Massachusetts Beautiful partners with the state Department of Environmental Protection with its Recycle Smart Partner Program to try and educate the public about how to properly recycle.
“We’re kind of the grass roots, from the ground up trying to clean up what’s out there and get people caring about their local communities and having some pride in their neighborhoods.” Rhein said.
Xingtong Liu can be reached at email@example.com.