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‘Adopting a spot’ to clean up Portsmouth

Solid Waste and Recycling Committee seeks residents to help rid their neighborhoods of litter

By Jim McGaw
Posted 12/9/20

PORTSMOUTH — Using a long trash-picker, Jen Haga reached way over a thicket of brush along the west edge of Thurston Gray Pond Tuesday morning to grab her first piece of trash for the …

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‘Adopting a spot’ to clean up Portsmouth

Solid Waste and Recycling Committee seeks residents to help rid their neighborhoods of litter


PORTSMOUTH — Using a long trash-picker, Jen Haga reached way over a thicket of brush along the west edge of Thurston Gray Pond Tuesday morning to grab her first piece of trash for the day.

“That’s a dirty diaper — frozen,” she remarked before placing the discarded refuse on the ground next to one of the paper grocery bags she carries around with her.

Unfortunately, Ms. Haga doesn’t get to choose which litter she picks up, although she admits that not every cigarette butt makes its way into her bags.

“If I stopped for every cigarette butt, those would be the most abundant, but I exercise too and I have a little game that I play: I try to get it without breaking stride,” she said.

Ms. Haga is a member of the town’s Solid Waste and Recycling Committee, which has initiated an Adopt-a-Spot program in hopes of encouraging more local residents to regularly clean up their little corner of town. The idea came to her after her gym closed in March due to the pandemic, and Ms. Haga started going on regular walks for exercise.

“I saw how dirty my walking route was, and I tried to find out how I could get more involved,” she said. “At first I joined the Melville Park Committee, because that’s this area. Then I was introduced to the Portsmouth Solid Waste and Recycling Committee. I’m a member of both committees now.”

She talked to Ted Pietz, who chairs the recycling panel, about getting the community more involved in litter cleanups. 

“The few people who are doing it can’t do it all. We’re just trying to get it started. It’s not too popular as yet,” she said,” adding the cold weather and the pandemic are keeping some people at home. The group has posted on social media, with mixed results.

“People are commenting and are interested — they think it’s a good idea — but we haven’t had many takers in terms of people wanting to adopt a spot,” she said.

She also believes there are “psychological hurdles” people need to surmount in order to be willing to pick up litter. 

“Those hurdles can be summed up in two questions: ‘Why should I clean up someone else's mess?’ and ‘What will people think of me when they see me picking up trash?’ I realized that if I wanted the mess cleaned up quickly and the tidiness maintained, I was going to have to do it myself and I just had to let go of concerns about other people's judgements,” she said.

There is an incentive for helping out. “We currently have a $50 Clements’ gift card that participants can enter to win by posting (on the Facebook group All Things Portsmouth) a pic of trash they pick up or a pic of them actually picking up trash. We'd love to have more businesses donate gift cards, items, or services that can incentivize and reward community members to get involved and stay involved,” she said. 

Where she goes

Ms. Haga comes to the pond area several times a week because it’s part of her adopted area.

“I walk along West Main for a little bit, come down here, go by the dog park on Smith Road, go on Sullivan, and down to the end of Stringham and back up. I usually collect a couple of bags this size,” she said, holding up a typical paper grocery bag.

What does she find mainly?

“Mostly, I would say the bulk of it is beverage containers of all kinds — cans, bottles and those little nips. Bud Light is the most popular beer,” she said.

Within just a few minutes Tuesday morning, she found seven bottles of the same brand of blackberry brandy in one spot near the pond — apparently someone’s favorite drink.

Sometimes, she said, the bottles get so heavy it’s difficult for her to carry them around. “A couple of people on Stringham Road have offered the use of their outdoor garbage can, which is really, really helpful,” Ms. Haga said.

In and around the Melville Park area can get particularly messy, she said.

“I think it’s because a lot of the people who live in the trunk of land that I walk don’t own the land that they live on; there may be less investment,” she said. “There’s the campground, and the Navy housing where people aren’t there for all that long, and I live in the mobile home park. So it’s different than a regular residential area.”

She’s managed to get much of it under control, however. When she first started, it took her 20-plus kitchen-sized garbage bags and several days to clean up her walking route (with the exception of Stringham Road, a “work in progress”), which she initially hated.

“I no longer hate my walking route,” Ms. Haga said. “Instead, I feel a sense of pride over the accomplishment as well as a need to get out there on a regular basis and keep it looking tidy. I've come to care very much about my walking route and almost feel personally offended when I see new litter. I think we all need to take it personally.”

A sense of humor helps, she said. 

“Often, I chat with my sister on the phone while picking up litter,” she said. “She does the same on her walks in Milford, Mass. We laugh about some of the stuff we find and pick up, like men's underwear, the occasional shoe, or, in her case, lots of Q-tips!”

Anyone interested in “adopting a spot” for litter cleanup should contact Ms. Haga or Mr. Pietz on Facebook, or reach out directly to the Portsmouth Solid Waste and Recycling Committee.

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.