I read this letter to the editor the other day, and it reminded me of when I was in seventh grade and wrote a letter to the editor about the importance of a Prop 2 1/2 override so that I could continue my music education in the public schools. Mad props, Erin Ligouri! (You know you’re old when all your idioms are from more than a decade ago. I can’t wait until my children are in high school so that I can hear the following question: “Mother, I do not know this player of whom you speak. Why should we hate the game he plays rather than the player himself?”)
As Tracy knows, I am involved in certain cleanup activities, so for Erin’s benefit, as well as that of the Worcester blogosphere, I’d like to discuss my thoughts on cleaning up Worcester.
1. You are Somebody.
There’s a wonderful quote attributed to Lily Tomlin:
I said “Somebody should do something about that.”
Then I realized I am somebody.
Don’t expect the Telegram to write an editorial, and don’t expect that someone else is going to take the initiative to start cleaning things up. I don’t mean that in a negative way, though. There are plenty of people who are willing to help or support your cleanup efforts. Ultimately, if you want to see a change, you are the perfect person to start the ball rolling.
2. The city government is committed to keeping the city clean.
(Please, no eye-rolling.)
I don’t always agree with the city manager, but I am a huge fan of the Keep Worcester Clean program. (Commissioner Moylan is also one of my favorite people of the year, but I’ll discuss that in a couple of months.)
If there is large-scale dumping in your neighborhood, you should file a complaint. As Sean found, DPW responds to these complaints pretty quickly. (DPW also promises to address graffiti with a 72-hour turnaround.)
3. Consider coordinating an Earth Day cleanup.
When I wanted to address some of the large-scale dumping on city-owned/managed land in my neighborhood, I called the City Manager’s Office. They suggested I contact the Regional Environmental Council so that I could be the site coordinator at an Earth Day cleanup.
For the past two years, I’ve been the site coordinator for the Swan Avenue/God’s Acre site, which has been considered one of the two “worst” Earth Day Cleanup sites in the city. (“Worst” here means “a ton of really heavy stuff spread out over a large area.”) For our first year, we were fortunate to have volunteers from Waste Management who brought a garbage truck. They loaded refrigerators, TVs, couches, and other large items into the truck; without them, my neighbors and I would have been completely overwhelmed. Last year, our neighbors, along with volunteers from Shaw’s in Webster Square, filled a 30-foot container with more trash.
I wish I could say that it doesn’t break my heart when I see more trash in an area I just cleaned a month or two before. I wish I could say that I don’t get insanely angry when I see motor oil dumped in conservation land. But I will say that our cleanups have improved the level of trash about 95%, and that it’s always rewarding to set aside a Saturday morning and have a huge pile of trash moved away at the end.
So, if there’s dumping on city-owned land in your area (parks, etc.), consider coordinating an Earth Day Cleanup.
4. Start small.
I started my cleanup efforts by putting bottles and cans in the bottom basket of the stroller. I’d fill it up as my children and I took our evening constitutional. While it does make the stroller smell like the floor of a fraternity on a Saturday morning, it also helps keep the area look a bit neater. I find that people are more likely to toss trash out their window if an area already looks like a dump. Taking care of the small-ticket items (candy wrappers, bottles and cans, etc.) can go a big way in making your street look better.
5. Don’t go it alone.
This is a corollary to “You are Somebody.” Your neighbors are Somebody, too, and the chances are pretty high that they feel the same way you do. If you start cleaning up, they will notice.
One thing I found in my cleanup efforts is how much my neighbors started to wave to me and stop and offer my kids a yogurt or a drink when they saw the impact I was making in the neighborhood. I am a very shy person, so it’s tough for me to knock on doors and ask people to pick up tires for a few hours. But when people saw me collecting flattened cans on the side of the road, they started coming up to me to discuss the latest trash they’d noticed, or asked me how they could help.
It’s very easy to start to feel like it’s you against the world, or (at the very least) you against the illegal dumpers. Most people don’t want to live in squalor. Give them the opportunity to help you, and you may be pleasantly surprised at how many people want to help.
6. Start a blog.
If all else fails, start taking pictures and share your experiences with other people. Who knows? Maybe the right person will be reading your work!