NORTH SMITHFIELD – An annual cleanup normally held in spring brought out more than 100 volunteers on Saturday, Sept. 25, with groups working with the Department of Public Works to remove hundreds of bags of litter from North Smithfield roadways.
On Clean & Green Day 2021, residents focused on routes along Industrial Drive; Log Road; Route 7; Pound Hill Road; Greenville Road; Iron Mine Hill Road; and Mendon Road, using supplies provided by the town in an organized effort to eliminate litter.
A collaboration between various town departments and the Clean & Green Day Committee, the event is typically held in conjunction with Earth Day in April. Concerns over COVID-19 led to a modified cleanup in spring, with the traditional Clean & Green event rescheduled for fall.
“A lot of people did their own neighborhoods,” explained Scott Hawes, a DPW employee who has also served on the committee organizing the event for the past four years. “It was the first time we attempted something in the fall, and it turned out better than we had anticipated.”
Hawes said around 100 people took part in the event, considered a good turnout for an effort competing with fall sports and other activities amid ongoing pandemic concerns. Five DPW trucks circled the town, collecting filled bags of litter, and assisting with public safety, with help from the staff from the town’s fire department and Emergency Management Agency.
Now in its 18th year, Clean & Green Day typically brings out several hundred volunteers, with participants collecting 3.43 tons of trash from more than 40 miles of North Smithfield streets in 2018.
While a dumpster behind the DPW building will still have to be weighed before Saturday’s tonnage is known, Hawes said officials were pleased with this year’s results.
“There was a smaller scale one put together before Earth Day,” he noted.
That event, dubbed “Restore North Smithfield,” brought out around 70 volunteers, and Hawes said the town is now considering holding two cleanups a year, thanks to the combined success.
“The weather ended up being nice, and it worked out really well,” Hawes said.
Staff from NRI NOW was among those taking part.
At a quick check-in process Saturday morning at Town Hall on Greene Street, I picked up supplies with a fellow litter collector including gloves, bottles of water and trash bags. Our bit of volunteer schwag also included Clean & Green Day t-shirts, sunglasses and a reusable shopping bag to hold it all, plus coffee and donuts were available.
We were asked if we wanted a difficult or easy route and I responded, “medium,” naively thinking the work in most areas would be relatively light in North Smithfield. As we walked along the busy road by North Smithfield Middle School wondering how far off of Providence Pike to direct our efforts, it seemed that I may have been wrong: the work was badly needed. Strewn along the roadway and into the brush below were water and liquor bottles of various brands and sizes, Dunkin Donuts cups and straws, face makes, packaging from fast food meals and much more.
From the start, it was obvious the town was keeping an eye out on volunteers, and while we may have been the only ones collecting trash in our designated area, we were not alone. A truck from North Smithfield Fire & Rescue Service parked in a nearby lot, serving to potentially slow traffic, while assuring us help was nearby if needed.
The drivers of many vehicles – including both regular passers-by and town workers – asked if we were ok, offered water, or just generally cheered us on.
After just over an hour, we ran into full trash bags – presumably set aside by other volunteers for pickup. By then, we had just about filled the four bags we took with us that morning, and were wondering if it was time to call it quits, when a familiar voice asked how we were doing.
DPW Director Ray Pendergast took the trash we were carrying, provided additional trash bags, and said the groups working along Industrial Drive could use some help since the area was “a mess.”
He wasn’t kidding. We didn’t make it far before both additional bags were filled and it was time to head home.
All told, we filled six bags of garbage walking less than a quarter mile.
And on the way home, I noticed the trash I have somehow managed to overlook in my daily travels around town under the false assumption that litter is more of a problem in cities.
The takeaway? If North Smithfield does, in fact, seem cleaner than other nearby towns, that impression likely comes as a result of the volunteer effort to make it that way. I will take part again after seeing how much needs to be done, and more importantly, I hope that others will help out a bit more all year long, starting in their own neighborhoods.
Because even a little effort can go a long way in making North Smithfield a cleaner town.
Founder & Publisher, NRI NOW