Worcester Green Corps Summer Recap
From pollinator gardens, to a successful YouthWorks program, WGC continues to keep our city clean

by Miranda Hotham, Worcester Green Corps Coordinator

The 2022 year has been an exciting time filled with growth and expansion for the Worcester Green Corps (WGC). We began the year with many exciting ideas and ambitions, and it has been incredible to see these come to fruition.

This summer, we hosted more youth workers than ever before, employing 26 individuals from the City of Worcester through the Worcester Community Action Council’s (WCAC) YouthWorks program. In just six weeks, our team picked up an impressive 3,892 pounds of litter from our streets, parks, and waterways. The group also participated in our career pathways program, where they learned about Worcester’s natural resources, the US waste crisis, food insecurity and urban solutions, and Worcester’s water resources. We were lucky enough to continue employing eight of our youth workers through the fall, providing employment to these individuals during the school year as well.

With the generous support of Country Bank and ServPro Worcester, our youth workers assisted in the installation and maintenance of pollinator gardens in Billings Square, Mill Street, and Park Avenue. These gardens play an important role in helping our native pollinators to thrive. In the spring, we have plans to continue to add onto these gardens and make them lush with greenery so that we can provide a valuable habitat for these essential members of the ecosystem. We also received assistance for these projects from Keep Massachusetts Beautiful (KMB) and the Worcester Garden Club.

In addition to the support for our pollinator gardens, KMB supported our efforts to keep our community clean by donating 25 cigarette receptacles through the Cigarette Litter Prevention Program. All of the cigarettes collected in these containers is sent back to TerraCycle, where the butts will be recycled and turned into new products.

Earlier this year, WGC collaborated with the Worcester Department of Public Health’s (DPH) Homeless Outreach strategists to develop our new Community Support Program. Once a week, we visit Millbury Street and offer $20 gift cards to anyone who would like to help us pick up litter for an hour. In addition to the gift cards, DPH directs individuals to important resources for housing, food, recovery, or anything else our community members might need. This new program has been largely successful, and we are looking to continue our efforts throughout the fall, and restart in the early spring.

WGC has also participated in a number of different community events. In August, we assisted with ZAP 50, an event that celebrates the 50th anniversary of ZAP the Blackstone, known as the largest one-day environmental cleanup in US history. We met with volunteers on the Worcester section of the Blackstone River Bikeway to pull as much litter out of the waterway as we could. We also met with a group of students from WPI at Coe’s Reservoir to remove over 200 pounds of trash from an illegal dumpsite close to the water. WGC also led a team of volunteers during the United Way’s Day of Caring, an annual event that engages more than 850 volunteers across the city. With a group of 30 volunteers from Clark University, Crocodile River Music, and UMass Hospital, we removed 227 pounds of litter from the Main South neighborhood.

WGC has played an incremental role in the collaborative efforts of the city and Casella to improve the purity of our curbside recycling program. This summer, our youth workers participated in a recycling audit, where they observed the most frequent contaminants along the routes and left behind education materials to help residents improve their recycling habits. Our youth workers found that the most common contaminant is plastic bags. More specifically, that residents are tying up their recyclables in plastic bags and leaving those on the curb. Because of the technology at Casella’s Materials Recovery Facility in Auburn, these plastic bags can become tangled in the machinery, halting production and requiring an employee to enter the machinery and physically remove the plastic bags. Because of this, beginning on October 1st, the city of Worcester has enforced new recycling regulations in an effort to reduce the number of contaminants in the recycling stream. In just the first three weeks of the program, contamination rates have dropped to only 15%, a statistic seen as a huge win by all the partners involved in the programming.

This fall, WGC was honored to be recognized by Keep Massachusetts Beautiful as the 2022 Rookie Chapter of the Year. This award is given to a KMB chapter that launched within the past 12 months that has made an impact in their community.

As we look toward 2023, we have even more plans to continue growing our program. We look forward to welcoming a new group of young adults in the spring, as well as the summer, through the WCAC’s YouthWorks program. We hope to begin working on various art installations around the city, and to add even more greenery to our existing pollinator gardens. We are working closely with the city and Casella to support the new recycling mandates, and we hope to collaborate with Worcester Public Schools to circulate information to community members to help reduce recycling contaminants.