Vermont’s Unique Solution to Roadside Trash

Vermont Country Store Late Spring Catalog Cover

Roadside litter is a problem in every state. People complain about it in every state too, and most states have organized volunteer cleanup efforts. But only the State of Vermont has made cleaning up litter into a kind of holiday.

Green Up Day takes place every year on the first Saturday in May, and every town participates. Thousands of volunteers in sweats, work gloves, and their tallest boots show up at volunteer stations to pick up bright green trash bags, which are made just for the occasion. Then they go to a designated area—usually the road they live on—to fill them with trash. The distinctive green bags are left by the road to be picked up by more volunteers or brought to collection depots. Every organization you can think of puts together a team: Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, bank tellers, the local gym, the Equestrian Club, and so on.

The mood is quite festive. Food trucks are on hand, providing free hamburgers, hot dogs, and veggie wraps. Coffee shops go on the road, delivering much-appreciated coffee in carafes. Often, they are followed by a motorist or bicyclist handing out bottled water and sunscreen. Sometimes a band plays on the village green or a dance party breaks out at the collection depot. Everyone is in a fine mood, partly because it feels good to help the community, and partly because it’s good to be outside on a Saturday in the springtime.

The first Green Up Day was in 1970 during the administration of Governor Dean Davis, but the program outgrew state resources within a decade, and it’s been run as a non-profit program ever since. It had to be postponed last year but we avoided having to cancel it, so we can claim 50 unbroken years of keep Vermont green. That doesn’t mean our work is done; on a typical year we pick up over 400 tons of trash, and we’ll keep at it until people learn to stop littering. Maybe we’ll see you out there!

Gardner, Cabot, Eliot and Lyman Orton
Proprietors of The Vermont Country Store