The Wake Up the Earth Festival is set for the first Saturday in May for the 39th year, and that means it’s spring in Jamaica Plain—time to also think about neighborhood cleaning again.
The city is “dirtiest in spring,” Public Works Department (PWD) Deputy Commissioner Michael Brohel pointed out in a recent interview, because of trash freed from the very ice and snow that also kept PWD busy during the winter.
Street sweeping by the City of Boston began on April 3, so people across the neighborhood have to pay attention to signs telling them when to move their parked cars until Nov. 30. Pretty much the same as every year in JP.
This spring quite a few new things are blossoming when it comes to cleaning up the neighborhood. The name of the community/City cooperative high-impact cleanups, called “Boston Shines” for years, has been changed by the City of Boston to “Love Your Block.” Cigarette butts and gum, as well as general litter, are being dealt with in terrific new ways. And City officials have been talking about regulating the use of flimsy plastic bags for purchases.
JP’s big cleanup, where neighbors traditionally get together to spruce up public spaces like pocket parks, community gardens, public school grounds, and sidewalks, will be May 12-14 with most efforts taking place on May 13 beginning at 9 a.m. Tools will be provided by the City at 8:30 a.m. at convenient locations, including Curtis Hall. For questions or more information call Kaira Fox at 617-635-3308 or email [email protected].
Now that the temperatures are warmer, residents and business people—and smokers, especially—may linger outside in the business districts longer and notice some brand new devices attached to poles in the business district. Sponsored by the Jamaica Plain Business and Professional Association (JP BAPA), Sidewalk Buttlers are tubular containers on the poles that invite smokers to dispose of their cigarettes through a small hole in the aluminum instead of on the ground.
Cigarettes get extinguished inside the tube so sidewalks are no longer littered with cigarette butts, which are ugly and not biodegradable.
Michael Reiskind, chair of the JP Shines committee as a member of the JP BAPA board, is spearheading the effort. Twenty-four containers have been mounted, with another nine to be put up shortly, he reported recently. In all there will be 50 Sidewalk Buttlers pledged by 30 different businesses. Each container displays the logo of a sponsoring local business. JP BAPA made the initial outlay of funds. JP Shines was nominated for a 2017 Waste Reduction Greenovate Award for the project.
The Sidewalk Buttler containers are manufactured by UrbanCare LLC, located in Portland, Maine, and carry a 20-year warranty. The containers were mounted by JP Business and Professional Association (BAPA) volunteers with the assistance of Mike Roylos, founder of Sidewalk Buttler, and his staff.
“In the past decade, cigarette smoking in America has decreased 28 percent,” according to Keep America Beautiful’s website, “yet cigarette butts remain the most littered item in the U.S. and across the globe… Though cigarette butts may be small, when they are carelessly dropped to the ground instead of properly disposed of, their litter has a big effect.”
JP BAPA will be responsible for emptying the containers on a regular basis. The collected cigarette butts will be mailed (without charge) to TerraCycle, a New Jersey-based company specializing in recycling unusual products, such as cigarette butts.
The JP BAPA Cigarette Butt Collection and Recycling Pilot Project, as it is called, will run 18 months from the first installation date, which was November 29, 2016. During month 17 of the pilot, BAPA will evaluate the effectiveness of the initiative, according to Reiskind.
Brohel said he has seen good results in other neighborhoods doing cigarette butt collection for a while now. “It helps us when litter doesn’t get to the curb,” he said.
Chewing gum is the second most littered object in the world, according to How Stuff Works and other sources, and JP has its share of black circles stuck to sidewalks often in the same areas as cigarette butts. Gum is not biodegradable.
Right now the City of Boston has two high water trucks with power washers that use water heated to 350-360 degrees. One worker blasts water at the dots, and another scrapes, Brohel said. They do most of their work in the summer at night or on weekends in specifically targeted areas.
Starting around June and lasting until fall, Brohel told the Gazette, the City will conduct a demonstration project with a utility vehicle roughly the size of golf cart that has three attachments. One of them will be a water tank for gum removal. Other uses are painting light poles and, in winter, removing snow from bicycle lanes. That vehicle will be smaller and easier to maneuver than the full-sized trucks.
Sidewalks that are gum infested are often identified by callers to 311, the platform where residents can report non-emergency issues to the City of Boston and access services, Brohel said. First, an inspector goes to look and verify the extent of the problem. Then, when warranted, a crew is scheduled to go to work to blast it off.
Brohel called Reiskind “a great mover of Public Works” and said he has been “helpful” over the years in identifying areas in JP that need attention, including sidewalks with lots of gum on them.
At a JP BAPA meeting just last week Eric Prentis, principal administrator for the commissioner of the Public Works Department, announced more year-round personnel will be available to help keep the business districts clean. JP can expect to see a regular “hokey,” as outdoor cleaning people are called, in summer months. But, in addition, Prentis said, six hokeys will operate downtown year-round and can be sent to neighborhoods for special projects or needs.
Everyone agrees flimsy plastic shopping bags litter the neighborhood and are bad for the environment; they, too, are not biodegradable. After a public process last fall, local Boston City Councilor Matt O’Malley and Council President Michelle Wu proposed an ordinance that would require merchants to charge customers five cents for every thin, non-recyclable plastic bag used. Customers would be encouraged that way to use cloth bags or thicker plastic ones.
Environment Department Commissioner Carl Spector said at a December Council hearing that Mayor Marty Walsh “strongly supports the goals of the proposed ordinance” but not the proposed ordinance itself. He said the administration wants to include the plastic bags issue in a larger “comprehensive” discussion and draft principles around “zero-waste.”
The Council’s Committee on Government Operations held a working session on the plastic bag ordinance at the end of March, but no agreement has resulted so far.
In Massachusetts, 47 cities and towns already have ordinances in place. Hundreds of cities and quite a few countries regulate use of thin plastic bags. Jamaica Plain residents responded in droves, more than any other neighborhood, to a survey on the topic put out by Councilor O’Malley last fall.
What Boston decides is expected to influence the content of a uniform statewide plastic bag law that would make implementation easier for businesses and consumers. The sooner something goes into effect in Boston to curtail use of thin plastic bags the better for everyone.
Cooperation and innovation are obviously key to keeping the neighborhood clean and safe. Figuring out how to keep plastic bags out of trees and off storm grates should be a priority and a breeze, considering how well City, residents, and business people are working together on other projects.
[Sandra Storey is founder and former publisher and editor of the Jamaica Plain Gazette. As a self-employed person, she is a member of the board of the Jamaica Plain Business and Professional Association; she abstains from votes about community issues.]