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Saturday, May 8, 2021

Nipping at trash problem

New River Advocacy Group Works to Nip Pollution Problems

By FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff

A sampling of the nips collected during an April 24 riverside cleanup
in South Kingstown, R.I. (Courtesy photos)
Nips. Ubiquitous nips. These tiny and empty bottles of cheap booze were omnipresent during a recent Earth Day cleanup in the village of Wakefield.

Bill McCusker doesn’t know how many he and the other 60 or so people picked up during the three-hour cleanup, but it was a lot.

“They were everywhere,” he said. “They were the main offender. Everyone was talking about nips.”

A bill was introduced during the current General Assembly session to require a deposit, not less than 50 cents, on all nips sold in Rhode Island. There are also two bottle bills (H5280 and S0106) that require deposits on all single-use beverage containers.

The April 24 cleanup — two days after the official observance of Earth Day’s 51st anniversary — was held by Friends of the Saugatucket and the Ministerial Road Preservation Association. The latter is an all-volunteer community group dedicated to preserving a scenic and historic road that dates back to the 17th century. The former is a new all-volunteer organization created to promote the well-being of the Saugatucket River.

McCusker and his wife, Elise Torello, are among the group of local environmentalists who thought it was time for the once-industrial river to have a guardian again. 

Volunteers used kayaks to haul trash out of the Saugatucket River.

Friends of the Saugatucket was formed in February and picks up where the Saugatucket River Heritage Corridor Coalition left off 14 years ago. McCusker said the new group wants to build on the “great work” and the “neat stuff” the coalition accomplished from 2001-2007.

Sadly, part of the Friends’ work includes cleaning up after others. The group’s first Earth Day event picked up and hauled out 1,200 pounds of trash. The 32-person effort — the Ministerial Road Preservation Association team had another 30 or so volunteers — involved three people on kayaks on the Saugatucket River; a few others donned waders, and the rest fanned out along the river’s banks and tributaries and the sidewalks surrounding them.

“We basically covered all of downtown Wakefield,” McCusker said.

Volunteers spent three hours cleaning
up the village of Wakefield.

Their reward was mostly plastic nips, bottles, and wrappers. McCusker said 70 percent to 75 percent of the collected trash was alcohol related. 

He noted that more vodka and whiskey bottles are now made of plastic and that it’s cheaper to buy 10 nips than the smallest equivalent bottle.

Much of the rest of the trash collected was fast-food debris. There also was COVID masks and dog poop bags left filled for someone else to pick up.

“Plastics are the problem,” McCusker said. “We can deal with glass, paper, and wood — paper and wood rots — but plastics don’t go away.”

He offered a few suggestions on how to lessen the amount of trash blowing around our communities, such as better enforcement of littering laws and replacing old trash cans with receptacles that have secure lids. He said enforcement could start with making sure garbage trucks of all sizes have their loads covered.

Besides picking up plastic and other trash, the new group’s broader mission is to advocate for the river’s health. The Friends’ areas of focus are restoring the river for herring passage, water-quality monitoring, stormwater mitigation, and educational programs.

The Saugatucket River has its headwaters in North Kingstown. It then flows south through South Kingstown into Point Judith Pond and ultimately into Block Island Sound. Its 11,000-acre watershed is a mix of woodland and suburban and urban development. The river and its tributaries are obstructed by several dams.

While the Friends of the Saugatucket River work on becoming a registered nonprofit, the Charlestown-based Salt Ponds Coalition is the group’s fiscal sponsor.