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Green Up Day roundup

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By CYRUS LEVESQUE

ADDISON COUNTY — As town Green Up Day coordinators put away their sign-up sheets until next year, organizers of the May 6 events at the county and state level are working to figure out how well their system worked this year and how it can be improved for 2007.

The Addison County Solid Waste Management District took in 16.04 tons of waste collected in the county on Green Up Day, an annual day on which Vermonters pick up garbage along public roads.

“It went great,” said Bruce Webster, Goshen’s Green Up coordinator. “We had a good showing, but Goshen always does.”

Peg Martin, the Green Up Day coordinator for Middlebury, also felt it was a success, although the weather kept the turnout lower than it might have been.

“On the whole, I think it went well,” Martin said. “The afternoon it rained, so that cut down slightly on the number of people who were out there.”

But if fewer people volunteered than usual in some places, it probably was balanced out in other parts of the state. “I’m getting early indications that more people turned out than last year,” said Melinda Vieux.

Vieux is president of Green Up Vermont, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting Green Up Day and coordinating its events. The organization, like Green Up Day itself, was created by Gov. Deane Davis in 1970.

The 16 tons of waste turned into the ACSWMD was a slight decrease from previous years, according to ACSWMD Program Coordinator Don Maglienti. The totals in 2004 and 2005 were 16.54 tons and 16.55 tons, respectively.

The reason for the decline is unknown. Volunteers might have been discouraged by the rain, but Maglienti suggested it might just mean there was less garbage to find. “It was down a little bit, but that could be good because it might mean there’s been less illegal dumping this year,” he said.

A crucial component in the success of Green Up Day is the municipal coordinators, Maglienti said. “It’s great. They’re all really excited about what they do, and they all motivate their town to go out and pick up trash.”

To make Green Up Day possible, these local organizers and the statewide organization have to scramble.

Green Up Vermont — which has just one other part-time staff person besides Vieux, who is also part-time — acts as a resource for the coordinators of individual towns. The organization provides and distributes the green plastic bags used around the state, as well as posters and other publicity for the day.

Some of the town coordinators feel they could use more support. Heidi Lanpher, the coordinator for Shoreham, felt that while the day itself was successful, getting ready for it would go more smoothly if the bags were available earlier. “I need the Green Up bags a lot sooner,” she said.

Lanpher said the bags are supposed to be distributed to organizers on April 19, but she didn’t receive them until April 24.

And if it were up to her, the bags would be distributed before the beginning of April. She feels that cleaning up would be easier before grass has grown too high. Some people would be interested in taking a bag with them on nature walks earlier in the spring if they were available, she added.

Vieux felt some problems were inevitable with coordinating hundreds of local events around the state. “It’s quite all-consuming, frankly,” she said.

Green Up Vermont, which has a budget of $80,000 in the current fiscal year, receives about 20 percent of its funding from the state; the remaining 80 percent comes from private donors. The largest contributions this year were the Vermont State Employees Credit Union and the Vermont Country Store, according to Vieux. She also said the Lions Club played a large role.

One complication to her job comes after the day itself. In addition to motivating and organizing volunteers, the municipal coordinators also fill out surveys about the events in their town — how many volunteers there were, how much land they covered, and other details — so Vieux can plan for the following year. But those reports are often incomplete.

“It dribbles in,” she said. “I’m lucky if half of them turn in their reports.”

Maglienti has also noticed that surveys sometimes aren’t completed. But, he added, even though coordinators sometimes don’t follow through on reporting, they do take their responsibilities before Green Up Day seriously.

“They do so much already, it’s hard to say they aren’t doing enough,” he said.

Another problem facing organizers is potential abuse of the system. “I am getting some feedback that some people are abusing the whole thing by dropping off oversized furniture and household trash,” Vieux said.

Green Up Day is intended to clean up outdoor areas, especially along roadways and in other public places. But according to Vieux, some people take advantage of it to dispose of their own household waste free of charge by claiming they found it by the road.

Some towns have ways to work around that problem. Orwell, for example, has an event of its own the same day as Green Up Day, called Clean Up Day. Residents can drop off appliances at rates reduced from what they would normally pay for disposing of them.

It’s hard to be sure exactly what effect Clean Up Day has on Green Up Day, according to Orwell’s coordinator Cindy Waltrous. However, Orwell was one of eight Addison County towns that did not record any scrap metal, appliances, TVs, fluorescent lights or car batteries among their Green Up Day waste, and Clean Up Day might have contributed to that.

Everyone involved in organizing Green Up Day said it should be part of a larger mentality. Vieux, for example, plans to start keeping rubber gloves in her car. She already picks up trash she sees when she drives by, but she would do it even more if she had gloves ready to use.

Despite the difficulties in organizing and pulling off the myriad events every year, Vieux feels that Green Up Day is an important tradition and worth improving. “It truly helps to make Vermont special,” she said.

“We don’t have the approach that almost every other state has right now, where people and businesses adopt sections of road and put their name on a sign,” she explained. “We feel greening up is everyone’s responsibility.”

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