Volunteers aim to tackle litter in the New Year

Volunteers aim to tackle litter in the New Year

Lori Poirier and Mary Bulso give a thumbs-down to the pile of trash they helped collect along Canal Street in Blackstone.

Less than a week into 2021, residents of local towns have already gotten the year off to a clean start, literally.

Over the weekend, several spontaneous cleanups took place along the Blackstone River. The first happened on the corner of Mendon Road near the Ann & Hope building in Cumberland, where volunteers Keith Hainley and Bonnie Combs collected two shopping carts and 10 bags of trash from the river’s edge. The second took place in Blackstone, where a group of volunteers including Combs, Selectwoman Mary Bulso and her friend Lori Poirier filled 13 bags with trash along Canal Street.

“What I’m trying to do is challenge people throughout Rhode Island, because we’re not trying to do anything in groups. So you just go out a couple at a time,” Hainley said.

Hainley is the environmental action coordinator for the Blackstone River Watershed Council/Friends of the Blackstone, a role that means he’s picked up more than his fair share of trash over the years. The Woonsocket resident has already been out several times since the holidays picking up cans and bottles as well as checking for problem areas along the Blackstone River Bikeway.

“I went down the bike path the other day from end to end and looked at all of the opportunities there for cleaning and replacing rails,” he said.

Hainley explained that now is a good time to clean up the river because last week’s snowmelt and the Christmas rainstorms brought water levels higher than normal. As the water recedes, it leaves behind what he calls “flotsam” – pieces of trash at the river’s edge.

“We’ve also got so much road litter, and the road litter ends up being river litter. All road litter washes down to the river,” he added.

Combs, a Blackstone resident who works as the marketing director for the Blackstone Heritage Corridor, typically collects litter while out walking her dog, Rocksie. After seeing the state of Canal Street last weekend, she decided to call in reinforcements, and later offered to help Hainley with his cleanup efforts further south in Cumberland.

“It was a disgusting, that corner of Ann & Hope. It was like a war zone,” she said.

The two groups typically organize cleanups in the spring, but due to COVID-19, are holding off on big group events. Instead, Hainley urged residents to go out on their own or in small groups and pick up trash where it’s needed. Along with the receding river, Hainley said now is a good time to clean up litter while the trees are bare and trash is more visible.

“It gives me a good feeling of satisfaction. That’s why I do it. It makes me feel better and when I go by there, I get to see a nice area,” he said.

Hainley said people looking to do their own cleanups can text his cell phone at 401-996-1542 for ideas on where to start. Groups such as the Blackstone Heritage Corridor and the Ten Mile River Watershed Council in East Providence can also provide information on areas in need of cleaning up.

Bonnie Combs, right, and Keith Hainley snap a photo with the trash they collected from the corner of Mendon Road near the Ann & Hope building in Cumberland over the weekend.


I've spent some time cleaning the area under the St. Paul street railroad bridge to the bike path. One afternoon, I filled a 13 gallon kitchen bag with only nips. They should be outlawed!

Why do people leave things behind? Why do people feel they have a right to litter?

I've picked up tons of roadside garbage during my career and it's infuriating that there is a segment of society that feels no shame in tossing their unwanted right out the window.

This is your community, live better!