County organizers ready for Vt. spring cleaning: Green Up Day

ADDISON COUNTY — It’s that time of year again. With winter’s departure (finally), a number of unsightly surprises from tires to cans and bottles left by accident or simple carelessness have revealed themselves on the side of public roads.
And this Saturday, May 3, all of it must go — it’s Green Up Day.
In Bristol, local Green Up organizer David Rosen will be on the town green starting at 8:30 a.m., giving out coffee from Vermont Coffee Company to the scores of folks they hope to see picking up trash along local roads.
“We’re telling people to bring mugs,” he said. “This is Green Up Day, we don’t want any paper cups.”
This week, a team of more than 20 organizers representing every town in Addison County will coordinate volunteers picking up trash along sections of roads in their respective towns. In Bristol, for instance, Rosen said the Bristol Conservation Commission is organizing groups on Front Porch Forum to clean up along specific thoroughfares.
Unlike previous years when volunteers would leave their green bags on the side of the road to be picked up, volunteers are asked to bring their collected rubbish to central receiving spots in their towns. (See chart for locations in specific towns.)
In Bridport, for instance, on Green Up Day two trucks will be stationed in the town office parking lot to receive the bags. In years past, the trucks were full by the end of the day, said Town Clerk Valerie Bourgeois. On Thursday, she noted that people had already been coming in to the town office to pick up the classic green trash bags that Green Up participants carry and fill up in their travels.
Addison County Solid Waste Management reports last year Green Up Day trash pickers retrieved some 15.28 tons of garbage, including 381 tires, 60 fluorescent bulbs and 11 items of electronic waste including computers or televisions.
“The need is always so disgustingly apparent,” said Peg Martin, one of the organizers for Middlebury. “The action is automatic. Young people see the older folks doing it and the tradition continues. It’s like Town Meeting Day.”
A uniquely Vermont tradition for 44 years, Green Up Day is held on the first Saturday in May, a day that for many counts as the unofficial first day of spring.
Roth “T” Tall, a Green Up organizer in Cornwall, has been participating in Green Up Day since the first one on April 18, 1970, when Gov. Deane C. Davis ordered Interstate 89 shut down for four hours while community members cleared trash on the side of the road.
“We caught hell for it in The New York Times,” Tall recalls. “Somebody wrote a scathing op ed saying we didn’t have the right.”
This May 3, while the Vermont Agency of Transportation will be responsible for the state’s highway and roads, local organizers in every town and city hope volunteers will help scour 13,100 miles of roads and collect 40,000 bags of trash around the state.
“This is a way for us to demonstrate what’s important,” Tall said. “To younger people and to people that may be new to the area.”
Green Up Day is the sole project of Green Up Vermont, the nonprofit tasked with the day’s continued operation. The annual event is not a project of state government, and last year the organization was in danger of being scrapped after corporate sponsors suspended their annual gifts. Until recently, the majority of Green Up Vermont’s $120,000 annual budget came from corporate sponsors, including Seventh Generation, Ben & Jerry’s and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters.
But Green Mountain Power came through with a pledge to become Green Up Day’s major sponsor by giving $20,000 per year for each of the next three years. Middlebury-based Vermont Coffee Company also signed on as the official coffee for the day. Among the other sponsors are Co-operative Insurance Companies, Cabot Creamery Cooperative and Casella Waste Systems.
The Legislature appropriates funds covering about 14 percent of Green Up Vermont’s budget, and cities and towns contribute another 18 percent. These funds pay for supplies, including 48,000 of the event’s signature green trash bags, promotions, education and two part-time employees.
Presently, only 1 percent of Green Up Vermont’s funding comes from individuals, an amount, Melinda Vieux, the organization’s president, says needs to change.
In late February, the Vermont House approved a bill that would allow tax filers to check off a voluntary donation to Green Up Vermont on their state tax forms. That bill now awaits approval from the Senate. Lawmakers last added a checkbox to income tax forms in 2010 to benefit the Vermont Veterans Fund, a move that boosted annual revenue to the fund by $40,000 a year.
“People have come to take Green Up Day for granted both in funding and in participation,” Vieux said. “It’s frustrating to look at the calendar of events and see how many events there are on Green Up Day. All of us can think of people we know who are not helping to clean up.”
This year, Green Up Vermont has focused more on generating buzz around the event to encourage people to donate their time and money. This past weekend, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott’s racecar sported Green Up Vermont decals when he raced at the Thunder Road International Speedway in Barre. At the parade for the Vermont Maple Festival in Saint Albans, trucks from sponsors GMP, Casella and Cabot all displayed banners for Green Up Day.
Vieux says she intends to continue the push for more stable funding from individuals into next year, which will mark the 45th anniversary. This year, the organization plans to better track the number of participants; those who take part are asked to go to www.greenupvermont.org and click on the “Be Counted!” button. Green Up Vermont is also starting an effort to track illegal dumping sites throughout the state. 

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