By Julia Borbely-Brown
Litter-free neighborhoods are not just beautiful. They also communicate pride, discourage further littering, and protect our waterways. While Trinity Park is a lovely place, you might be surprised how much litter you’ll find along our streets if you’re paying attention. Left on the ground, all of it will eventually end up in Ellerbe Creek. Picking up litter is something that we can all do to help ourselves, our neighbors, and the environment.
TPNA has organized neighborhood-wide clean-up events periodically–once or twice a year or maybe every few years. In the early days–the late ‘70’s and ‘80s–we assembled large teams of volunteers and assigned them each a big stretch of the neighborhood, such as the entire length of Buchanan Blvd, or the entire length of Watts. Over the years, we’ve tried variations of this approach, grouping the volunteers into smaller teams (1-2 people each) and assigning them to smaller areas (1-2 blocks). Volunteers seemed to like working in smaller teams a little better. They would come to the gazebo to get their assignments and supplies. They’d put in a few hours’ work and then maybe return to the Park for a photo op.
On several occasions, in addition to litter pick-up, we also organized a neighborhood-wide hazardous waste collection, arranging for one or two neighbors’ vehicles to take all of the collected items to the dump site on East Club Blvd., saving neighbors time and gas.
In other years, we also documented sidewalk problems, downed tree limbs, overgrown lots or large debris in vacant lots, and reported the results to the City with a request to address the concerns.
For our most recent major cleanup in 2016, we assigned each volunteer group a one-block area, and we had great success with litter pick-up. (We did not include a hazardous waste collection this time.)
In April 2021, after several years without a “deep clean,” TPNA once again organized a neighborhood-wide clean-up on April 22 in honor of Earth Day. We assigned each volunteer a block and asked them to pick-up litter and report any issues with sidewalks or other problems that the City might be able to address. Unfortunately, participation in this year’s clean-up was perhaps the lowest ever! We managed to cover only 20% of our neighborhood’s blocks. We are grateful to those who did volunteer, however, and we welcomed all the feedback we got.
Charlie Flowe, 7th grader, participated in the clean-up with three friends, covering the area bounded by Urban Ave and Dacian Ave., from Duke St. to Buchanan Blvd. Although his crew collected enough trash to fill a large bag, Charlie said, “Compared to what I’ve seen in the creek, the street was looking good.” But the best part of it all? “Being with other humans for an amount of time not equal to zero.” A big Covid Amen to that!
The question now is whether our current approach to neighborhood clean-up still works. Is it time for something new?
For example, maybe we should make it an on-going effort, rather than hold a big one-day event. Picking up litter shouldn’t happen just once a year (or once every five years)! Former TPNA President and TP Foundation President Don Ball made it a personal habit to pick up litter whenever he went out for a walk, which he did with his dog Luke almost daily. How could we encourage this habit throughout the neighobrhood? What could we do to make sure the whole neighborhood is tended, and not just the most popular walkable blocks? Maybe a household could adopt a block, doing a quick trash pick-up on the block a few times a month for, say, 3 months. This type of clean-up does not take a lot of time, and it can be done with kids, friends, or partners. We could offer a reward – like a certificate. In the past, we printed special “Trinity Park Trash Crew” t-shirts, and some of us still wear them proudly!
Neighbors, what do you think is the best approach? If you have comments or would like to volunteer to conduct a survey about the future of neighborhood clean-ups, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I welcome ideas and new energy, having been part of the clean-up efforts for several decades now.
TPNA is very grateful to Julia for her tireless civic spirit and dedication to Trinity Park and the environment. Thank you, Julia, for all your efforts, past and present!