African-American Perspective Newsletter publisher Richard James has initiated a community based, all volunteer effort to clean up the City of Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Traveling the city on foot, Mr. James documented the evidence for the need for a clean up. He found numerous discarded items on Williamsport streets. He photographed hundreds of items of trash and debris and posted the images on social media to raise awareness of the problem.
“Litter is hard to see, we have become desensitized to its presence.” By posting the numerous photos, James hoped to dislodge the social blindness from the public’s daily life experience. “I had to raise the awareness.” James said.
But, sharing photos of fast food containers, cigarette butts, plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, old tires, beer cans and plastic bags was not enough. Action was needed.
Richard James created a film of him picking up litter on the River Walk in Williamsport and he showed it to the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership, an organization dedicated to restoring community connections to the Susquehanna River. That got the ball rolling.
He also notified Williamsport City Council of his plans to promote a city-wide cleanup during the week just prior to Earth Day – April 15 through to April 22, 2018. Here is the transcript of his presentation at a City Council meeting on March 29, 2018:
Hello, Good evening. My name is Richard James, I live at 610 West Fourth Street.
I am starting a… organizing event to clean up Williamsport. A couple of days ago, I was on the River Walk and I was walking and I saw a lot of trash. And so, I decided to pick it up. Then a week later I came back and… the section near the Maynard Street Bridge… it was filled with litter again. So that’s when I recognized that just one person… is futile. We are going to need the whole city to engage in this effort. Earth Day is coming up in April. It is going to be on a Sunday. And the Newberry people will be holding their annual cleanup on Saturday the 21st. So, then that’s when I got the bright idea that we make this city-wide and have the whole city engaged! Twenty-nine thousand people picking up litter! I know that is a bit ambitious but it can be done. I mean except for those folks that are physically unable. And we can get a jump on all this litter.
I have been documenting it for the last couple of days and posting it on Facebook. And you won’t believe the amount of trash that is out there. Especially if you are in a car it is hard to see. If you are walking it is a little bit easier, like you’re on the ground and you start to see the bottles, the trash, the cigarette butts, all kinds of stuff. You would not believe it.
I am asking for a community wide, community based effort and I am inviting everybody in this room to come out and pick up some litter. I decided it would be great to have it as a week long event. And it would be designed for individuals and groups and businesses to pick their best times, a convenient time for them to do the work. So from April 15th to the 22nd we are asking people to come out and clean up their yards, clean up their blocks, clean up their neighborhoods from one end of the city to the other.
I am working with the Newberry people, I also talked with the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership and we are negotiating on how we are going to clean up the River Walk and I have talked to the Adult Probation Office. Maybe we can get some people that serve their community service to help in that regard.
And so, at this point, this is just a FYI and I hope to be talking to some members of City Council in the next couple of weeks, public safety, and some other issues to round it out. Thank you.
If you wish to join Mr. James and his friends in the city wide cleanup, he offers a few guidelines:
It looks like litter comes from 3 primary sources. People droppings, unsecure truck loads, and improper trash handling. People tossing trash from their cars is a big problem. Governments quite frankly can’t keep up. Lycoming County and the state wants to keep track of the amount of litter collected.
- Carry two bags with you; one for biodegradable material and one for recyclables. (Biodegradable is any thing organic. Tree leaves, etc. Recyclables are cardboard, paper, plastics.)
- Be safe. Pay attention to the traffic at all times. Don’t risk your life trying to reach a piece of litter. Be sure to wear work gloves or garden gloves.
- You might need a rake and a shovel, but in most cases, the litter just needs to be picked up.
- Avoid trespassing. Pick up litter that is clearly in public spaces. (this is a good opportunity to get to know your neighbors! Say hello.)
- Take a photo of your work and your team! Post the photos to social media using the hashtag #WilliamsportCleanUp
- Have some fun. Enjoy the day. Meet new people. Be sure to tell your friends. We want this effort to grow into a movement of civic responsibility. We’re already making plans for next year’s Earth Day week!
- Form a team and register with the Great American Cleanup of PA. Get free work gloves, safety vests and trash bags while supplies last.
Here’s a message from Corey Ellison of Susquehanna Greenway Partnership Richard James regarding his promotion of the event, “… ask for them to track their # of volunteers, # of hours they participated in the cleanup, how far/# of blocks or miles they cleaned up, and if possible to weigh their collected litter. To weigh the litter, a simple bathroom scale with plastic wrap over it would work. This would help us to show a collective impact of the whole week, and would help to set benchmarks to support a larger effort next year. They are welcome to send that information to SGP for processing.”