Burrillville Earth Day cleanup begins April 20 with kickoff event in Harrisville

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Volunteers show off trash collected during 2022's cleanup.

BURRILLVILLE – An annual two week-long cleanup that typically brings out hundreds of volunteers will officially kick off on Saturday, April 20, with a gathering to celebrate efforts to keep Burrillville litter-free at the Stillwater Mill pavilion in Harrisville.

The event will be held from 8 a.m. to noon, and will mark the first time since 2019 that Earth Day volunteers have come together to acknowledge the efforts of groups, families and individuals to maintain town roadways, which continued even as how organizers ran the initiative has changed dramatically.

Started decades ago by members of the Burrillville Lions Club, the town’s Earth Day celebration grew over the years thanks to a collaboration with the Department of Public Works, the Burrillville Conservation Commission, Waste Management and Keep Blackstone Valley Beautiful.

According to committee member Sandy Hall – also the founder and editor of this publication – the tradition dates back to around 1999, when the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management put out a call seeking community partners to sponsor localized cleanup events. The Lions accepted the challenge, and began working with the town to coordinate trash pickup and disposal.

It began as a one-day cleanup, and over the years, the effort grew to include a poster contest; swag bags filled with cleaning supplies, t-shirts and more for participants; and drawings for dozens of raffle prizes. Volunteers would gather at the Burrillville Public Works garage to pick up items and get assignments for areas to clean, also enjoying complimentary coffee and donuts thanks to a partnership with Dan’s Management.

But all of that changed in 2020.

“I joined the Earth Day committee in 2020 – the year that was supposed to be the event’s 50th anniversary. We were planning something extra special, to include burying of a time capsule at a big event, and a photo and essay contest. You can probably guess what happened,” Hall said.

The planned celebration was cancelled, and a new system was developed that year where, due to state-mandated pandemic-related limits on gatherings, the litter clean up took place over a two-week period. Volunteers were assigned areas and picked up the supplies they needed from the town DPW building at their convenience, in a DIY effort to continue keeping trash off of Burrillville streets.

And in place of the system where DPW workers spent a Saturday collecting bags of gathered litter, participants were instructed to call the department whenever they were done to say where the trash was located. Rhode Island Resource Recovery, which had long waived tipping fees for trash collected during statewide Earth Day events, also expanded their contribution, waiving fees through the longer period. Organizers emphasized that the litter should not be placed in any individual’s trash collection bins for that reason.

The changes not only made the effort easier for town workers, it actually grew Burrillville’s Earth Day participation, as volunteers were no longer limited to those who could help out on the single day.

“So we found out that the two week system is easiest and most convenient for everyone,” Hall explained. “But the Lions miss the camaraderie and community spirit we always had at the kickoff event.”

And so, Hall – who is chairing the initiative this year as a member of the Lions – has set out to change that.

The event on April 20 will once again include complimentary refreshments, and Lions Club members will assign areas for cleaning to those who have yet to sign up through DPW. They’ll have some cleaning supplies, such as gloves and trash bags on hand, with waters and reusable bags for participants thanks to donations from Brigido’s Fresh Market and Saver’s Bank. In addition to the usual raffles run through DPW, Lowe’s has donated a young American Elm shade tree, with raffle tickets to be sold for $1 each exclusively that day, and all proceeds to go toward future efforts to continue and grow the town’s long-running Earth Day tradition.

Due to a limited supply, t-shirts this year will still only be available through pickup at DPW, however, while supplies last. Advance sign-ups with t-shirt sizes before the Saturday kickoff – or during the two weeks that follow running through Sunday, May 5 – must go through Trash and Recycling Coordinator Andrea Hall by calling (401) 710-4214 or emailing ahall@burrillville.org.

It is all part of an effort to celebrate the decades-long focus on keeping Burrillville beautiful, which the Lions hope to continue long into the future.

“I hope people join us in Harrisville on Saturday to celebrate the town’s success in what has become one of the largest and most organized efforts to address litter in the state,” Hall said.

The Earth Day kickoff event will be held from 8 a.m. to noon at the Stillwater Mill pavilion across from Jesse Smith Library on Tinkham Lane.

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