Volunteers Clean Up After Inconsiderate Slobs

By CATHERINE SENGEL/ecoRI News contributor

Volunteers filled more than 200 trash bags with debris collected from within the Blackstone River watershed. (BRWA)

Volunteers filled more than 200 trash bags with debris collected from within the Blackstone River watershed. (BRWA)

Electronics, furniture, two toilets, two sinks, pieces of baseboard heating, bathroom tiles and hazardous waste were among the debris removed from the Blackstone River watershed as part of a recent Earth Day cleanup.

Close to 200 volunteers spread out in teams across 10 communities and 36 sites in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts. They collected 210 bags of trash from shorelines, streams and ponds, during the April 19 cleanup sponsored by the Blackstone River Watershed Association (BRWA).

While BRWA cleanups go back decades, project coordinator Susan Thomas, who has been involved for the past four years, said the annual event has gone from focusing on the main stem of the river to small tributaries, headwaters and ponds often overlooked in the past.

“It’s hard to compare what we’re pulling out now with what we pulled out of the main stem,” Thomas said. “I do suspect there’s a lot more convenience, on-the-go-commuter-type trash that we’re finding now.”

Ten years ago, river waste was more likely to include discarded appliances, car parts and tires. Thomas sees fewer tires and appliances, but a lot of litter and roadside trash.

And despite efforts by cities and towns to make trash pickup, recycling and disposal of hazardous materials, electronics and large objects more accessible, clean-up crews found “a tremendous amount” of remodeling debris, including sinks, toilets and pilings, along waters beside one stretch of River Road in Uxbridge, Mass.

“Clearly, somebody had been doing major house renovations and just dumping it,” Thomas said. “I thought we’d passed that in the ’70s. I didn’t think people did that kind of disposal anymore.”

She said bridge crossings in particular are treated like public dumping grounds.

The West River in Uxbridge was used as a winter dumping ground for mattresses, meaning an enormous effort is still to come to haul them up a steep embankment beside a busy road.

“That’s something that’s still happening on roadsides. That kind of thing disappoints me,” Thomas said. “I would have thought we’d have a more enlightened public that’s not just throwing trash out the window.”

BRWA volunteers go into local schools to educate students about the importance of watershed and that what is dumped on the land, be it in their backyards, the woods or some abandoned field, ends up in waterways one way or another.

“We see a lot of trash,” Thomas said. “Ideally, we’d like to see it go down, to where we only need 20 people, but the last couple of years we’ve had close to 200 and more than enough trash to keep them busy.”

Beach cleanups
In celebration of Earth Day on April 22, Save The Bay organized six Earth Week beach cleanups that saw 495 volunteers remove 7,783 pounds of debris from Easton’s Beach in Newport, Bold Point in East Providence, Salty Brine Beach in Narragansett, Field’s Point in Providence, Rocky Point Park in Warwick and the Mount Hope Bay shoreline in Bristol.

Among the debris collected included lobster pots, fishing nets, tires, car parts, gasoline cans and a roll of chain-link fence.