No longer Taxachusetts, now we’re Trashachusetts

360 tons of litter collected along major highways in 2015

AFTER ANOTHER LONG NEW ENGLAND WINTER, Massachusetts residents will soon bid a welcome hello to spring. The sun will set later, the daffodils will bloom, the last of the snow will melt, and vast amounts of litter will once again be visible everywhere you look.

Let’s be frank. The amount of litter along Massachusetts’ highways, city sidewalks, suburban streets, and secluded country roads is a public disgrace. Don’t believe me?

Take a close look when you walk around or drive around today. Your eyes will be assaulted by a steady stream of Styrofoam coffee cups, empty “nip” bottles, plastic beverage containers, and the most littered item on planet Earth—cigarette butts. We may as well rename our state Trashachusetts.

The mess in Massachusetts sends the message that Baystaters don’t care much about our state’s appearance. For a state economy that relies heavily on tourist dollars, that’s the wrong message.

In addition to being just plain ugly to look at, our litter problem comes with financial costs. According to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, prison inmates, MassDOT employees, and volunteers have collected an average of 90,000 bags of trash, some 360 tons, along our major highways annually over the past three years. These efforts cost $1.3 million in 2015 alone, a figure that does not include the cost of MassDOT employees’ time. And let’s be clear—these efforts are collecting only a small fraction of what’s out there along other roads across the state. Most of the litter remains in place or makes its way into our waterways and the ocean.

State and local authorities currently don’t have the resources they need to clean up the mess and keep it cleaned up. But we, the people of Massachusetts, do.

Rather than simply accepting the disgraceful appearance of our roadsides and public spaces, Keep Massachusetts Beautiful is urging residents, government leaders and the business community to participate in the Great Massachusetts Cleanup this spring. We’re working to organize thousands of volunteers to honor the spirit of Earth Day by participating in community litter cleanups during the months of April and May.

The Great Massachusetts Cleanup provides an opportunity for you to get out with your neighbors, friends, family, or co-workers and improve the appearance of your own neighborhoods and communities. It’s a chance for students to earn community service hours and for parents to teach their kids to take pride in their communities.

We’re working to help groups from Boston to Lowell to Cape Cod to Springfield mobilize volunteers, in-kind donations, and corporate sponsors in support of this effort. We’re also working to encourage participation in successful cleanups that are already in place, such as the Boston Shines program and the annual Charles River Cleanup.

A long-term solution to our state’s litter problem will be more challenging. If you think your local Department of Public Works has the resources to clean up the mess, you will be sorely disappointed.

To achieve a litter-free Massachusetts, the people of Massachusetts need to change their behaviors. If people simply dispose of trash and recycle properly, there will be no need for a Great Massachusetts Cleanup.

Meet the Author

Neil Rhein

Executive director and founder, Keep Massachusetts Beautiful
I believe our state government should also implement a comprehensive anti-litter education program that targets children and adults alike. Other potential solutions include increased funding to pay for year-round prisoner details and MassDOT cleanups. Stepped up enforcement of existing—but largely ignored—anti-littering laws would also help.

Business leaders can help by partnering with Keep Massachusetts Beautiful to provide volunteers, board members, and financial support. Together, we can work toward creating a more beautiful state, something that’s good for businesses, the economy, the residents of Massachusetts, and our environment.

Neil Rhein, founder and executive director of Keep Massachusetts Beautiful, encourages anyone who shares his interests to visit and find a cleanup event nearby or learn more about the benefits of establishing a local Keep Massachusetts Beautiful affiliate.