On Sunday, April 7, approximately 20 residents joined Val’s Valiants, the Berkeley Heights Innovation and Sustainability Alliance (Sustainable Berkeley Heights), the Berkeley Heights Environmental Commission (BHEC) and the Berkeley Heights Downtown Beautification Committee (DBC) in a litter clean up along Watchung Way that resulted in 91.3 pounds of litter – 66.7 pounds of recyclables and 24.6 pounds of trash - being collected.

The clean up was part of the state-sponsored Adopt-A-Beach clean up effort, due to its location near the Green Brook tributary.  The area being cleaned is a litter magnet, covering the stretch on Watchung Way between the bottom of the long Runnells driveway and Horseshoe Road.  

This marks the third year an Adopt-A-Beach clean up has been conducted for this particular area.  Last year, in 2018, Val’s Valiants and the BHEC picked up 199 pounds of litter from this same area.  In 2017, Val’s Valiants picked up 70 pounds of litter from this stretch as well.

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Participants of all ages – from young children to teenagers to adults – came out to participate, showing that you can never be too young or too old to help make a difference in making our community cleaner and greener.  Many were surprised by the amount of litter recovered, as the tall brush hid most of the litter from plain view.

“It was shocking to see how much trash there was,” said Emily Murphy, a junior at Governor Livingston High School.  “We found a lot of [litter] just a few feet from the street.  People probably just threw it into the bushes as they walked down the street or drove by in their cars.”

The saloon-like feeling created by the number of beverage bottles, cigarette butts, and discarded 40-inch long kitchen countertop illustrates Murphy’s point.  Volunteers collected a total of 165 plastic beverage bottles, 85 glass bottles, and 26 metal cans within less than a one-fourth mile stretch.  An overwhelming majority of glass bottles collected were small liquor bottles, many of which were found together.  The 59 cigarette butts found were primarily located on and along the grassy median that divides the roadway.  

In addition to these items, some of the strange things the group collected included a car floor mat, a car air freshener, a toy helicopter, 5 large cardboard boxes, a container of 11 donuts, a phone, a lottery ticket, and 10 medium-sized metal washers.

“We need to think of a way to stop this [littering],” said Val Diamond, leader of Val’s Valiants.  “People who are driving up to visit relatives at Runnels think nothing about throwing their cigarette butts out their window.  That way, they’re not smoking by the time they get up to the hospital.”

Certain volunteers agreed that a change in people’s mindsets is the best way to prevent such a vast amount of litter from accumulating in such a small area in the future. Having pride and respect for our outdoors is the starting point.  As Town Councilman Manny Couto stated regarding this open space and other open spaces in Berkeley Heights, “This is our house.  I’m sure you wouldn’t drop empty bottles and food waste in your living room . . . so please, don’t do it in mine.  Place trash where it belongs.”  

The Adopt-A-Beach clean ups are part of the New Jersey Clean Community Council’s (NJCCC’s) efforts to keep our state’s waterways free of litter.  For more information about the NJCCC, please visit www.njclean.org.

For additional information about upcoming clean ups and other ways to participate in the effort to make Berkeley Heights cleaner and greener, please visit the Sustainable Berkeley Heights website at www.sustainablebh.org and the BHEC website at http://bh-ec.org/.