Sunday, October 7, 2012

Litter picking is an All Season Sport - Don’t just be the change, Make the change. South Burlington, Vermont

This is the story of Litter with a story to tell.

I just listened to Don't just be the change, make the change on The Story Of Stuff ( As the video suggested, I would like to share my story of how I am working to drive change in my community.

Vermont is the only state that does not have an Adopt-a-Highway Program. Why? Because we have Green Up Day led by The Green Up Vermont non-profit ( Thousands of people in Vermont turn out each year on the first Sat. in May to volunteer for Green Up Day by picking up litter along the roadsides, shorelines, parks, and elsewhere.

As I wrote in my "Why we do it (Green Up Day) every year" blog posting:
When in my teens, no longer a child needing my parent’s attendance yet still harboring a deep down desire for family experiences, I sought out Green Up Day as a continuation of tradition mixed with my growing independence. As I joined friends that Saturday morning I felt like we were doing something good that seemed leveraged well beyond the ten or twelve bags of trash we collected. The activity was not as work anymore than climbing the hill to slide back down was in the winter. What I saw and felt that Saturday encourages me to view every day that I walk outdoors as Green Up Day. Read more at, and

 Yet, I want us to do more. I want more of us to clean up litter year round with a goal of eradicating litter in our community. Here I will highlight (each one numbered) some of the methods I have used to instill this change.

In 2010 I began writing editorials (published in the local paper of my community, The Other Paper,( occasionally in The Burlington Free Press and now also in The Mountain Gazette ( a year round Green up / Clean up litter awareness and actions to clean  up litter whenever it occurs or is seen. The local paper asked me if I would like to write a monthly column (1.) on the subject and I have done so ever since. My columns attempt to use emotional context, humor, and other storylines to carry the “Year Round Litter Eradication” message. For example:

Seeking to expand upon my published text columns, I began a blog (2.), The blog contains short stories (& photos) reflecting Vermont values of Green and Clean, inspiring people to maintain a litter-free environment year round. The blog includes pictures of litter in our community, and for contrast–pictures of nature without litter, empasizing the beauty of nature in Vermont and supporting the general community norm (Vermont values) against littering. In addition, there are litter related references including blogs by others with the same year round litter eradication action oriented goals.

Thematic (sports) -,

Starting the conversation about year round clean up with businesses (3.) was my next step. During the fall and winter, I walked an area in our community that contains many retailers and took pictures each week of the litter in front of many of these businesses. Next, I created a two-minute petition and engaged one on one (door to door) with business owners and managers to alert them of the opportunity to help their establishments shine by recognizing and cleaning up the litter on their storefronts, throughout the year. (Read more to see how well this worked, at 
After canvassing these businesses twice in two years, I pondered, how could I let other folks know they are empowered and how they could exercise their desire to have a Green and Clean community, beyond participating in Green Up Day. Thus, the Clean Up Coupon (4.) was created. ( The coupon allows individual citizens to alert retailers of litter on their business storefronts. This allows citizens to express that they care for a Green and Clean community; to express they believe in CSR, Corporate Social Responsibility.

My first large success was with one of the large grocery stores in our community. This store took measures to put in place a regularly scheduled clean up of their storefront. I visually inspected their storefront weekly for over a year. The results were dramatic. When I see one of their employees outside picking up trash from the storefront, (celebrate success (5.) ) I stop and tell them, “I know this task may not be your favorite, but I hope you can feel proud at the difference you are making for our community”.

In contrast, for many months after I met with the manager of a drug store next door to the grocery store mentioned above, I noticed a large amount of litter on the drug stores parking lot, green space and walkway. Taking the appeal for clean up to the next level, I contacted the drug store (a national chain) corporate offices. They responded they would contact the manager and instruct remedial action. After a few more months had passed and the pattern had mostly continued I contacted the national chain’s corporate office again, this time copying the owner of the real estate company that owned the property and copying my communities city council chairperson. I don't wish to enact punishment. I do wish to modify behaviour. As part of my effort to encourage change, I offered this council (6.):

I Believe businesses must constantly earn the valuable Clean branding that Vermont conveys. According to The VERMONT Brand, a study by O’Neil Strategy Group, a brand is a set of strong associations people have with a product, place of service. Brands exist in peoples ‘minds, not in the product, place or service itself. These associations are really expectations people have for that product, place or service. For purchasers of Vermont products the Vermont image includes natural, pure, beautiful and respectful of the environment. Does litter in front of storefronts enhance this product association? Will (sore name) elect to clean up and maintain a litter free storefront to include the parking area, walkway, fronting sidewalk, greenbelt, and roadside curb, on a year round basis? Elect clean storefronts –it is a matter of community pride. Moreover, it is a matter of differentiation for Vermont businesses.

 Another opportunity for voicing my concern about an action affecting the cleanliness of our community came as I bicycled up a hill while being passed by a trash hauler truck. Spewing out of the top of the truck like a snow squall where hundreds of Styrofoam – popcorn pieces.  I pedaled as fast as I could up the hill and managed to catch up to the truck, which had stopped at a traffic red light. The driver rolled down his window, however being so out of breath I could not speak at first. After taking about fifteen seconds to catch my breath, I alerted the driver to the massive amount of litter leaving the truck and landing on the road and in the river. The driver made adjustments to prevent further leakage of trash. Later I alerted the trash company and asked them to take actions to prevent re-occurrence (7.).

Collaboration is often multiplier (1+1=3 by sharing in expertise) and barrier breaker. I have recommended joint collaboration between trash haulers and the city government to establish trashcans & service at high traffic areas where litter accumulates. I have contacted local high schools and colleges offering suggestions of various project ideas towards litter eradication and litter prevention that they might utilize as part of their community service curriculum.(8.)

On an individual basis, I participate on Green Up day, this past year staffing a table at City Hall – the reception point for Green Up Day trash drop off- meeting with folks to promote year round green up events and actions. During much of the fall, winter and spring I pick up litter around a two block area in our community once a week on average.  This summer I have joined the Rozalia Project ( on Coastal Shore Cleanup activities to help clean up some of our lake and river shorelines. (9.)

I have also created an anti litter WIKI (10.) (  that references many litter resources including research reports, logos, slogans, litter laughs, inspirational items and more. Success will require many ideas and actions to prevent litter, to cleanup existing litter, to raise awareness and activism, and grow a culture that is intolerant of litter.

To celebrate and success and encourage continued actions I have written to many profit and non-profits (11.) whom support Green Up Day.
Thank You (business or nonprofit name) and employees for your support of Green Up Vermont and thereby facilitating Green Up Day in South Burlington. Green Up Day is a wonderful family tradition that helps build community while improving the health and view of our landscape. Community is not static. Community needs to be developed, sought, and nourished. Invite people to and encourage communally beneficial and non-exclusive activity like litter picking; that in turn develops community. Vermont’s natural landscape is a treasure we need to care for on a regular basis. Green Up Day participation by businesses, employees, families and nonprofit groups reflect how much Vermonters cherish their environment. What is Success? Read the answer at .

I continue to seek ideas for more methods of communicating awareness of litter and the harm it does, promote clean up throughout the year, and enclose the messages in stories and pictures that captivate people’s interest. The Story Of Stuff blog, movies, text, and other messaging formats as well as the information and inspiration within, help me to brainstorm how I might offer more diversified storylines.

In the second most popular (by viewers) of my blog postings,                 I state,

From far away Earth appears to be blue.

A closer look tells us why many of its inhabitants are of the same attitude. The world around them is decaying. The sustainability of plant, animal, and human life is hanging by a thread-like straw of hope. We have defined human success in terms of accumulation, regardless of need. Need has become a created element in order to bolster more want, followed by more accumulation. With our posturing, profiting, and populating we crowd out other species, and monopolize the earth’s resources that she carefully designed, and stored for many millenniums. Fear of wanton destruction of life is awakening us towards a new attitude and behavior.

 The new mantra is “Beneficial”.

Will you become beneficial to our home-our atmosphere, our soil, our lakes, rivers and streams? Will you add your voice and behavior to the Green Economy?

None of us will do it all. If each of us does the best we can, we will make a difference-it is about individual actions by mass numbers of people.

By far, the most popular blog posting (according to readers) I have written is

Why are we tolerant of trash?

We can grow an attitude of intolerance for litter just as we can grow pride and activism for attributes like Lake Champlain.

If enough people join in on a regular basis, well to quote Arlo Guthrie in Alice's Restaurant song, "And friends they may think it's a movement." Everyone can make a direct impact on litter prevention and clean up.

It is the movement to eradicate litter in each our communities - I wish to grow.

Bernie Paquette
Love where you live!
& Laugh, Dream, Try, and do good.

Other essay postings:
      Ø  Why are we tolerant of trash?: