As summer closes and fall begins, trash remains a constant blemish on the earth. But Newtonians took initiative Saturday to clean up the litter around their city.
Equipped with yellow vests, gloves, and trash pickers, volunteers ventured to various locations in and around Newton on Sept. 18 to fill up their trash bags. The organizers chose the specific areas around Newton based on their trash levels.
“The sad fact is trash is always building up along roadsides, sidewalks, and public spaces all across Massachusetts,” said Neil Rhein, founder and executive director of Keep Massachusetts Beautiful. “So, unless local residents take action it’s just going to stay there.”
As a part of the Great Newton Cleanup, around 70 volunteers worked from 9:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. to pick up trash that accumulated around the city during the summer. Keep Massachusetts Beautiful, a nonprofit working to keep communities clean, the local Keep Newton Beautiful chapter, and Pick Up Mass hosted the event.
“Much of the plastic and trash that sits in our waterways and our oceans starts on land,” Rhein said. “So even something here in Newton can eventually work its way into the ocean, especially the smaller pieces of plastic.”
Boston University senior Nina Wilson helped clean up the Newton Happy Trail for the event. She said she was interested in the event after her experience working with a Nantucket environmental organization in the summer.
“I was really excited to come out and do it,” Wilson said. “It’s just really nice to be able to pick up all the garbage because no one else really does.”
Wilson said she was surprised to find plastic and rusted copper wiring beneath the soil. She added that a lot of people don’t understand the importance of cleaning up trash.
“I would definitely recommend communities getting together, like small groups, and going out whether it’s an official trash pickup event or if it’s just something you want to do on the weekend,” she said. “I think it’s important because there is that environmental aspect of it, but it’s also a nice social thing that brings people together, which is awesome.”
For 15-year-old Raj Brodie, a West Newton resident, the clean up event was a family occasion. Brodie’s parents and brother joined as he picked up a “bizarre” package containing pancakes, as well as polystyrene foam — which takes more than 500 years to decompose, according to the Green Dining Alliance.
“It takes so long to dissolve … I just was learning about how terrible it is for the environment,” Brodie said. “So I went out of my way to pick up any [polystyrene foam] specifically.”
Laura and Nathaniel Foote found beer cans, a car part and an air conditioner as they picked up trash around Newton for the event.
“We’re really happy to volunteer. It was super well organized,” said Laura Foote, a resident of Newton for more than 20 years. “We do a lot of walking and cycling around Newton and we do notice trash, so it was great to have an assignment.”
Laura Foote said the volunteers “made a difference” that morning, and as people saw them picking up trash, they received thanks.
“I think if people see that trash has accumulated they just feel ‘Oh I’m just going to add one more won’t make a difference,’” Laura Foote said. “But when people see neighbors taking pride in it, then it’s less likely to build up.”
Keep Newton Beautiful Director Yigal Agam said picking up trash is a “quality of life issue.”
“Just treat the public space the same way we treat our private space,” Agam said. “We go a long way to keep our houses clean, so why not the outside?”
To get involved in keeping communities clean, Rhein encouraged locals to join the Massachusetts Litter Cleanup Crew, which is a program promoting trash collection and litter cleanup. Keep Massachusetts Beautiful also has launched a change.org petition with nearly 3,000 signatures urging state legislators to create a statewide anti-litter campaign.
“Public service announcements, social media, TV and so forth, to just educate people about this issue, and get people to take action to clean it up,” Rhein said. “Our ultimate goal is to put ourselves out of business, so these types of events aren’t necessary.”
Keep Massachusetts Beautiful is hosting another cleanup event Sept. 24 — the Great Boston Cleanup — from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information on the local Newton chapter and how to get involved with events, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or see the Keep Newton Beautiful Facebook group.
Colbi Edmonds can be reached at email@example.com.