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Published on July 26th, 2019 | by Deb Wolf

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Youth and Seniors Reducing Litter and Helping Our Environment

Current prEvents — July 24, 2019 — The Times Argus

By JAMIE BLONDIN and ANN GILBERT

Vermonters are finding so many ways to help our environment through Green Up Day activities, learning to compost, updating recycling practices, driving less, and doing away with plastic bags and disposable water bottles. Making sure that we keep up with responsible practices can eliminate problems in our water supply and in our landfill.

Two important projects are underway in Montpelier to do just that. The “River Keepers” from Montpelier’s Main Street Middle School are caring about local waterways. The “Trash Tramps” from the Montpelier Senior Activity Center are maintaining clean streets around downtown.

The River Keepers are protectors, activists, educators and environmentalists who work to maintain the health of river systems all over the world. The Main Street Middle School (MSMS) River Keepers is a small group of middle school students who are part of a bigger group of student activists from Team Dynamix 802 that works on tackling a variety of worldly issues. The Green Team is led by MSMS teacher, Don Taylor, and their mission is to “create a program that fosters the growth of self-directed community members who will have the skills required to achieve their goals and collaborate with others to solve real world-problems of the 21st century.” Student activism is essential for real change to happen and be sustained over time. MSMS is very fortunate to have a group of bright, creative and passionate River Keepers among their student body! Montpelier will benefit from the projects they are doing for their community.

The main focus of the River Keepers this school year was to stencil warning signs around storm drains in Montpelier. They started this service-learning project because they noticed how much garbage, including cigarette butts, end up in storm drains. This activity helps to raise public awareness that anything dropped down the storm drain flows directly into the Winooski River and is harmful for all the living organisms in the river system.

Working with their school and the City of Montpelier’s Department of Public Works for permission, the River Keepers used environmentally-friendly paint to stencil the signs on storm drains around the school using images of fish to make it eye catching, educational and fun. The messages read, “Dump No Waste; Drains to River.” Collaborating with the Friends of the Winooski, the students learned about similar projects the organization has done and learned tips of how to keep this a sustainable long-term endeavor.

One of the main sources of trash in storm drains is cigarette butts which we now know are not biodegradable. In fact, 95% of cigarette butts contain cellulose acetate which never fully decomposes, even after seven years! Smoking-related debris makes up over one-third of all debris items found on United States beaches and in rivers and streams. Many fishermen have reported finding butts in the bellies of their fish and the health of the fish and other living organisms in the river system are poisoned by the toxic chemicals. Discarded pods from Juuls and vaping devices are now a problem as well.

Volunteers of another generation, the Trash Tramps, continue to reduce litter around downtown every week. With their bright vests, team cheer, and tongs and bags in hand, they pick up all the litter that hasn’t made it into a trash or recycling container. Much of what they pick up is–you guessed it– cigarette butts. They add the butts to those that are emptied from the “Sidewalk Buttlers” which are cigarette butt receptacles on posts around downtown. These butts get weighed, in order to keep data, and then sent off to be recycled. The Trash Tramps collaborate with several community partners to ensure this effort is successful. The City of Montpelier, Montpelier Senior Activity Center, Montpelier Alive, Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District and Central Vermont New Directions Coalition all play a part in planning, disposing, and purchasing more Buttlers each year. Starting with six Buttlers in 2016 there are now 25 Buttlers and many thousands of pounds of butt litter have been kept out of the waste stream. Imagine what 126,000 cigarette butts look like! That is the amount collected in 2017 and now with more volunteers and more receptacles the numbers are growing. It is amazing how many butts are collected! It is truly wonderful that they are kept out of the landfill or swept down the drains, and remarkable that community members, both young and old(er), are making such a difference in Central Vermont.

More about the River Keepers and Team Dynamix 802 can be found at: https://sites.google.com/mpsvt.org/team-dynamix-802/home

To help the Trash Tramps, even one time, meet at the Montpelier Senior Activity Center (MSAC) 58 Barre Street on Tuesdays at 2:00pm to head out with the group for an hour. Bring gloves. Bags provided. All welcome!

Jamie Blondin is the Prevention Educator with Central Vermont New Directions Coalition. Ann Gilbert is the Director of Central Vermont New Directions Coalition, encouraging healthy behavior and decreased substance use in the community.

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