Spring is finally here. That means longer days, warmer weather, green grass — and melting snow banks revealing mountains of trash and roadside litter.

As the hard- working folks at Waterville Public Works plow our streets all winter long, they are moving more than just snow. All that trash is now revealing itself once again, and it is blight on our city.

For the last few years, I have been voluntarily picking up roadside litter here in Waterville. I have been out there a lot in the last few weeks. I despise jogging or going to the gym, but I have found that walking our neighborhoods with a trash bag to collect litter is great exercise. I actually started a Facebook page, “Don’t Trash Waterville,” to post photos and findings from my adventures.

I’ve been shocked at what I’ve found. The most abundant items I find are empty cigarette packs, nip alcohol bottles, plastic shopping bags, food wrappers, Styrofoam cups, plastic straws, fast food wrappers, and paper towels.

Along the way I ask myself, where does it all comes from?

My theory is that some of it comes from drivers and pedestrians littering our roads. However, I think the vast majority of it comes from curbside trash bags and recycling not being placed in covered containers. Crows and other critters wreak havoc on our curbside trash, tearing open the purple bags and strewing litter in to the streets looking for food.

I looked in to Waterville’s city ordinances and was pleased to find this passage in the Property Maintenance Ordinance, “Sec. 3-5b.1. Rubbish Storage Facilities: The owner of every occupied premises shall supply approved covered containers for rubbish, and the owner of premises shall be responsible for the removal of rubbish.”

It goes on to say, “Sec. 3-5c.2. Containers: The operator of every establishment producing garbage shall provide, and at all times cause to be utilized, approved leak-proof containers provided with close-fitting covers for the storage of such materials until removed from the premises for disposal.”

Furthermore, the Waterville Solid Waste Ordinance states, “Sec.1-4. Administration: 7) It shall be the responsibility of residents to prevent waste or recycling from being strewn or blown about the street prior to being collected.”

I contacted the Waterville Code Enforcement Office to ask if this was being enforced. They told me that this section of the ordinance only apply to private property, not to public property (i.e., the curb where you put your trash). This was disappointing. I am going to follow up with the Waterville Public Works Department.

It is an exciting time to live in Waterville. Our downtown is experiencing a rapid revitalization as once vacant buildings are being renovated. New businesses are moving in to town. The Riverwalk project at Head of Falls will attract families. Homes sales in Waterville are reaching record levels. These are all encouraging signs, but we need to keep our neighborhoods, trails, and streets clean and free of litter in order to attract more families and businesses to move to Waterville.

In 2017, a bill was proposed in the Maine Legislature, L.D. 432, to make the first Saturday of May “Maine Community Litter Clean Up Day,” as is observed in New Hampshire and Vermont. The bill passed the House and Senate. However, Gov. Paul LePage vetoed it, saying, “During the (winter) thaw, litter is known to be washed away. Because of this, I do not think that that the bill is practical.” Wisely, the Legislature voted to override the governor’s veto, and the bill became public law.

Please join Sustain Mid Maine Coalition for a community clean-up day on Earth Day, Sunday, April 22, starting at 1 p.m. in Castonguay Square. We will supply trash bags and disposable gloves for volunteers. Together, we can all help keep Waterville clean and make it a healthier and more beautiful place to live.

Todd Martin is a Waterville resident who works at the Natural Resources Council of Maine.


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