By Rowan Hawthorne, Community News Service
Abby Foulk, 66, is retired and has lived in Charlotte for 29 years; she serves as an alternate board member of the Chittenden Solid Waste District.
Foulk, along with Spencer, washes the recycling they receive to ensure it can be redeemed. This practice is unique to Charlotte. Foulk suggested doing this “several years ago.” “Normally we have about 10 50-gallon bags,” she said.
Foulk was the first to suggest washing the recycling for Green Up Day. “I just noticed on my road when I was a volunteer and picked up litter that was recyclable, it was pretty clean,” she said.
“A lot of beer cans, sometimes clean glass like liquor bottles, and mostly just lots and lots of aluminum cans are in pretty decent shape,” Foulk said, describing the majority of what she picks up along Charlotte’s roads.
She wanted to get people to start recycling the materials that could be recycled, and washing these made them more valuable and allowed more to be redeemable and recyclable.
The proposal to Charlotte’s Green Up Day coordinators was that “we would be willing to provide clear plastic bags and a rinsing station and have it be totally on a voluntary basis.”
When people pick up the bags at the beginning of their shift, they are asked if they want separate bags so they can isolate the recyclables in bags to be washed. Most people are asked, and those that are asked all take it.
The washing station is behind the Charlotte Central School, allowing Foulk and Spencer to utilize the school dumpsters, where they place the washed recyclables. Foulk sets up three barrels of water to use for washing the recyclables that need it. “Some stuff I do have to rinse, but a lot of the time the material isn’t even dirty.”
Ken Spencer, 60, is a co-coordinator of Green Up Day for Charlotte and works with Foulk to ensure the recyclables are washed and delivered to Tenney’s Snack Bar & Bottle Redemption.
There are several stations at the Charlotte Central School, which is the drop-off spot for the trash and recycling for volunteers during Green Up Day. Most volunteers signed up online beforehand, deciding what sections of the road to clean up. If someone didn’t sign up earlier, they check in at the tent where Kim Findlay, the other co-coordinator, was handing out green bags for trash and clear plastic bags for recycling.
“We’re hoping to divert as much recycling and redeemables from the landfill as possible. The way we do that is by cleaning everything, so it’s in as good condition as it can be, and then taking it to Tenney’s Redemption and Recycle, if it’s a material that can generate some money,” said Spencer.
“They are willing to take all these materials we bring, cans and bottles, and separate the redeemables,” said Spencer. “It’s complicated because there are different waste streams. At the very least, we’re diverting it from landfill and hopefully providing some afterlife for it.”
“We have our three trucks here, which is all material we can take to the Solid Waste District,” said Spencer. That includes scrap metal, tires and electronic waste.
“I’m very committed to litter pickup—this is what I do every day,” said Spencer. “In my retirement, Green Up Day is fun for me because it’s when everybody joins in that fun. So, I just feel like I’m a part of a big community effort that is doing something that is really easy to do.”
“My hope is that it spreads a little bit to other days, you know, like every day to be cleanup day.”
Spencer is the founder of Planet People, a non-profit organization based in Charlotte that sells “Planet Packs”—backpacks filled with everything someone needs to do roadside litter cleanup.
“The organization really just exists to support the direct activism and support people who pick up litter,” said Spencer. “I really got the sense that people were just jonesin’ to get out and do something helpful with other people.”
Last year, Charlotte organized Green Up Day on May 30 instead of May 1—later than usual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The biggest difference Spencer noticed was simply that people had to social distance, wear masks, and that “the grass was so much taller off the roadsides. A lot of people had trouble finding stuffing and seeing it.”
Spencer has been organizing Charlotte’s Green Up Day with Kim Findlay for four years.
For a final tally, “15 bags of redeemable bottles and around half again as much recyclable containers” were collected. “We filled Ken Spencer’s 4×8 trailer!” wrote Abby Foulk in an email.
Karen Tuininga, 57, and Wolfger Schneider, 80, are annual volunteers for Green Up Day. This year, they were taking the 10 a.m. to noon shift at the e-waste drop-off location at Charlotte Middle School.
The most common items that Tuininga and Schneider receive are modems, keyboards, flat panel TVs, tube TVs, mice, keyboards and printers. The strangest items they’ve seen while volunteering at the e-waste drop-off are “old tube radios from the 50s and an exercise machine,” said Schneider. Most of the items they receive for e-waste are from people’s homes and not from the roadside. “
“I feel like there was a lot extra last year, but this is probably similar to a normal year,” said Tuininga.
The e-waste is picked up by a company that refurbishes what they can, “so it keeps it out of the landfill,” said Tuininga.
“We’re disgusted at the amount we collect,” said Schneider.
“It’s alarming what the turnover in people’s lives this must represent,” said Tuininga. “But we’re delighted to keep it out of the landfill.”
“I love Vermont for so many reasons, but this is one of them—that all the communities are doing it, that it’s statewide, that, you know, so many people are involved. I just love it,” she added.
Ruah Swennerfelt, 73, has been in charge of organizing the e-waste pick-up and disposal for eight years. She is part of the Charlotte Sustainable Living Network, which focuses on “transitioning from fossil fuel-based economy consumer society to a regenerative future.”
As a way to encourage recycling e-waste, the Charlotte Sustainable Living Network partnered with Charlotte’s Green Up Day organizers to set up a place where residents can drop off their e-waste on Green Up Day at the Charlotte Central School. The e-waste collected is then given to Good Point Recycling in Middlebury. Good Point Recycling picks up the waste and recycles it. The goal is to “keep electronic waste out of the landfill, both in its bulk but also its dangerous metals and stuff like that,” said Swennerfelt.
“Good Point Recycling consider[s] themselves a very environmentally important company, that kind of breaks down all this stuff for all its usable parts and recycles whatever can go just into recycling and then whatever can be used for the electronic components,” said Swennerfelt.
Quoting what Swennerfelt referred to as the “cheerful disclaimer” of Good Point Recycling, she said, “If we wait for governments, it’s going to be too little too late. If we act on our own, it’s definitely going to be too little, but if we act locally with each other, it might be just enough just in time. And so we know that local efforts can grow with each other to become much bigger.”
Green Up Day represents a “wonderful thing” to Swennerfelt. “Once a year, people of all stripes get out, walk the roads, clean up after the winter and find all the things that were left behind, you know, and were hidden by the snow, and, and it’s not partisan. You’re gonna be meeting up with and joining together with people who voted for somebody different from you,” she said.
While organizing the e-waste drop off and pick up on Green Up Day is hard work, Swennerfelt feels that it is important. “It’s just an incredible community spirit, the smiles and the laughter. Some of the laughter at the most ridiculous things that people find, you know, it’s just, it’s really beautiful,” she said.
Emma and Nathan Cote, 12 and 10, are students at CCS and have participated in Green Up Day for six years. They enjoy helping out on Green Up Day because “it’s helping the earth” and “all the trash that we get doesn’t go into the land.” Growing up in a household where they recycle everything, it was disappointing to see “all the trash that everybody just threw carelessly,” said Nathan.
Last year, they didn’t participate in Green Up Day, and the thing they missed most about it was “picking up the trash” and “doing something nice for the Earth.”
They love the tradition of Green Up Day and are environmental advocates already. “If we keep treating the earth badly, it could blow up,” Nathan said. Emma and Nathan “definitely” plan to participate next year.
Kim Findlay, 60, is the other co-coordinator for Charlotte’s Green Up Day. Organizationally, last year and this year were “pretty much the same.” “It’s been a good turnout,” said Findlay, describing the volunteers signed up for Green Up Day. “It’s been very steady and we have nearly all the roads signed up for, which is normal but fantastic.”
Her favorite part of coordinating is “talking with people and, you know, just hearing their enthusiasm for cleaning up the roads, being in touch with the spirit of the day.”
Findlay’s role this year was greeting people and giving them bags, making sure they knew which roads to clean up, and helping people who hadn’t signed up already. This is her fourth year co-coordinating with Ken Spencer.
Christopher Vatis, 60, is a retired schoolteacher who participated in Green Up Day alongside his wife, Emily. “We walk a lot and we generally pick up as we go just because neither of us is a native Vermonter and we came here because we love Vermont and what it stands for,” said Vatis. “So, when we don’t see it clean, it kind of offends us—so we do what we can when we can.”
Originally from New York City, Vatis moved to Vermont 27 years ago to be in the outdoors and “wide open spaces, fewer people, less traffic, and, you know, outdoor life.”
“Vermont’s the place to be for [COVID-19], because you could get out and not always have to be masked,” said Vatis. “Every day, we were still walking or hiking or snowshoeing, skiing or something.”
The Vatises participate most years “because we sort of do it more actively because we enjoy the outdoors and we get sort of bothered by the casting off of stuff.”
Vatis described why he likes to clean up the roadsides, saying “there’s always going to be a need to clean up, but, you know, the thing about cleaning up is not discarding stuff in the first place and so I just wish people would be more mindful of it.” And he says, “I’m also cheap and love to get the collectibles or the returnables.”
“Emily and I just had a very nice experience with an older gentleman pulling up—he just stopped his car and came out and gave us two jars of maple syrup,” said Vatis. Green Up Day “brings us together.”
Eloise Glassco, Ava Bergquist, Amelie Fairweather and Lily Siedlecki, all part of the 6th grade class at Charlotte Central School, picked up trash along Guinea Road in Charlotte.
“We just really wanted to clean up the roads,” said Bergquist. “We want to help the environment.”
“I’m just really interested in helping the environment, and Vermont is just so pretty in its natural beauty and we need to make sure it’s restored,” said Fairweather.
Since the pandemic started, life changed for these four friends. “We’re not really allowed to hang out with our friends as much,” said Glassco. “It’s hard because we’re all great friends.
“And the teachers are just a lot stricter,” added Bergquist.
The four 6th-graders participate often in Green Up Day. “I always participate, year-round,” said Seidlecki. “I just think that people should go out and clean up their neighborhood, like all the small things to help the environment will definitely make an impact on Vermont,” she said.
“Thanks to all the people who went out and actually did something today. I mean, it’s fine if you don’t, but it’s better to get out and help rather than just thinking that other people are going to do it for you,” said Bergquist.
“Keep Vermont fun, keep Vermont weird, and keep Vermont clean,” said Fairweather.
“I think Charlotte should make like a green up day every month or so,” said Glassco. “Not just once a year.”
In the future, these 6th-graders hope to be artists, actors and activists—and maybe a veterinarian, according to Seidlecki.
Amelia Gerlin, 54, is a social worker in Charlotte who was cleaning up trash with her sister Rebecca, a landscape garden business owner from Connecticut. “I dragged my sister along, she’s visiting for the weekend,” said Amelia. “I’ve done it every year, and I’ve lived here for 20 years.”
Green Up Day means “taking care of my environment, my community and my walking path, so it’s like the big, the medium and the micro,” said Amelia.
“My town has a town-wide cleanup day every year on Earth Day, so actually, this is perfect because I didn’t participate this year because I was away. So, I’m happy to be doing it here!” said Rebecca.
“It’s community spirit,” said Amelia.
This year, most of their family is already vaccinated and able to see one another again safely. Last year, they struggled to spend time together, but for Christmas, they did “a quarantine, the test, and quarantine so we could really guarantee we could see our parents who are in their 80s so they didn’t have to have another Christmas alone,” said Rebecca.
Now, they’re able to be outside without masks, thanks to Governor Phil Scott’s recent relaxation of the mask mandate. Green Up Day “is a great tradition,” said Amelia.
“Yeah, I think it is a really great tradition and I really do like the community element and I guess I kind of go at it a little bit differently. We know people litter and we know people have alcohol problems, and, you know, we’re not plagued by those things. So, let’s step up,” said Rebecca.
“I see everybody out with their bags, like it just does feel good, like real people are concerned and caring and participating and that’s nice,” said Amelia.