NORTH SMITHFIELD – A clean up event held in conjunction with the international celebration of Earth Day brought out 210 volunteers who blanketed North Smithfield roadways on Saturday, April 23 on a mission to remove litter.
The event, held for nearly 20 years thanks to a collaboration between a town officials and a dedicated committee of volunteers, returned to its normal schedule in 2022 after two years of limited efforts due to the pandemic.
“We were unsure on how the turnout would be with the last few years being crazy with restrictions,” said Scott Hawes, a Department of Public Works employee who has also served on the committee organizing the event for the past several years. “We saw a lot of new faces.”
Hawes said the turnout was good compared to recent events, in which around 180 volunteers have joined the effort. Supplies, including trash bags, gloves and t-shirts, were handed out at Town Hall, along with coffee, doughnuts and assigned routes.
“We had quite a few walk-ins this year,” Hawes said. “I think the weather had a lot to do with that.”
Hawes said those who participated in the Saturday morning event filled a 30-yard dumpster to the top. Rhode Island Resource Recovery Center typically waives tipping fees for communities across the state to help with Earth Day efforts.
“We’ll get a weight back on that once they pick it up,” Hawes said.
Aiding the mission in 2022 was a donation from Anchor Subaru of 100 high-quality trash grabbers, an asset Hawes said the committee has wanted to purchase for years.
“The cost was so high,” he said. “They were willing to pay the whole fee for 100 of them.”
While it was a generally successful day, Hawes noted that not all areas were cleared of litter.
“There’s definitely more work needed,” he said, noting that part of the problem is that high-priority areas, such as highway ramps and the land surrounding power lines, aren’t necessarily the safest roads. For safety reason, many groups sign up to clean areas around parks and school that are already maintained by Parks & Recreation staff.
“We want to have families involved, but there are those high-traffic areas,” said Hawes. “We’re kind of limited with what we can do.”
More focus, he said, is needed in some of the town’s wooded areas.
“People feel safe to just throw things out the window.”
This year, communities across the Blackstone Valley will get a second shot. Keep Blackstone Valley Beautiful is organizing a fall clean up in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the largest one-day regional environmental clean-up in American history.
The fall event aims to duplicate Operation ZAP in 1972, when 10,000 volunteers descended on the Blackstone River to remove litter. The 2022 event will be spread across the Blackstone River Watershed, with towns – including North Smithfield – each contributing to the overall effort.
Hawes said more information about the town’s plan will be released closer to the date in August.
For now, he said he’s grateful for the progress that’s been made and is thanking both volunteers and the committee that made it happen.
“Filling a 30-yard dumpster is really pretty good,” he said.