Ethan Shorey.jpg

There’s a stretch of Mineral Spring Avenue in Pawtucket, measuring about two-tenths of a mile from San Antonio Way to Legion Drive, that’s an absolute dumping ground.

Like many top litter spots in the state, there are vacant properties along this street that don’t get much attention and it’s located near a coffee shop, liquor store and convenience store, where disposable items are handed out all day and then get tossed out the window. Paired with stray pieces of trash from the municipal waste transfer station nearby, it all creates a perfect storm for litter.

During one recent visit to clean up here, I watched as someone pulled into an on-street parking spot and dumped a whole bag of trash out the window, brisk winds quickly spreading it up and down the busy street.

We have a litter problem, one that’s grown worse during the pandemic, and, as we reported previously on these pages, the people who typically volunteer to clean up other people’s waste are getting pretty discouraged about it. A day after they clean it up, the trash is back, sometimes worse than before.

I must acknowledge I’ve lost a good deal of faith as well, wondering sometimes whether any of it is worthwhile, but then I remind myself that I can only control my own actions, and if I give up, things will be just a tiny bit worse.

Some of you might remember that I’m doing this thing I call a 52-week challenge, picking up at least one bag of trash per week in 2021. Last Thursday, I made my fifth visit to this stretch of Mineral Spring Avenue, staying until I had a trunk full of trash.

This time, though, someone noticed what I was doing. A neighborhood resident walking down the street stopped to thank me and tell me it’s about time the city cleaned this section up.

“Are you getting paid?” she asked me. No, I replied, I actually come here every few weeks to clean this up. It just gets trashed again that fast, I said. The woman was so excited by my response that she said she’s going to start doing the same thing. I don’t know if she will follow through or not, but I came away with a big takeaway after that positive interaction: This is how change happens.

Since I started publicizing this effort at the beginning of the year, I’ve heard from a number of others who have jumped on board.

I don’t need a pat on the back any more than any of these other people who are taking simple small steps to make their neighborhood a better place. I wouldn’t even call it a sacrifice, really, but it does require at least a small level of intentional commitment.

I drove back by my adopted spot on Monday to see how the cleanup had held up, and while, predictably, it wasn’t as clean as it was last Thursday, it was way better than it was last Wednesday.

What I was reminded of last week was that little steps from a lot of people have the potential to bring about change, inspiring others along the way. Perhaps this little piece I’ve written today will motivate someone else to also join the cause. Who knows, maybe it will also be a needed reminder to someone not to throw that coffee cup out the window.

Ethan Shorey has been the editor of The Valley Breeze since 2017. He’s been covering Pawtucket news since The Breeze started its city edition in 2009.

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