TRENTON – When the COVID-19 crisis hit New Jersey in mid-March, the New Jersey Clean Communities Council (NJCCC) had an immediate challenge: People were littering masks, wipes and gloves.

Many were discarding personal protection equipment in shopping carts or carelessly throwing them on the ground in parking lots, creating an unnecessary risk for store employees, municipal workers and others to dispose of it all.

The NJCCC, working on conjunction with the New Jersey Food Council, launched an immediate statewide information campaign, urging people to use the proper receptacles for disposal of PPE. The two associations coordinated an advertising program, as well as reached out to municipal officials and store owners to provide informational materials designed to quickly change people’s behavior as the pandemic affected more and more New Jerseyans.

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The message was simple: “Don’t Litter! Throw Away Masks, Gloves and Wipes!”

“It was crunch time,” recalled NJCCC Executive Director Sandy Huber.  “We were receiving reports from all over the state from municipal officials and police departments, urging people to stop this dangerous littering as the state was in lockdown. We knew we had to act quickly.”

Linda Doherty, president of the New Jersey Food Council, who is also chair of the NJCCC Board of Directors, said there were a number of government officials, neighborhood groups and residents statewide raising concerns about these eyesores; the trash was an obvious environmental health risk.

“As soon as we started this advertising campaign, local leaders, businesses and community groups stepped forward to share their ideas about ways to communicate with the public about this litter crisis,” Doherty said. “We were quick to spread that information, hoping others can emulate good policy.”

Now, more than three months into this informational campaign, the NJCCC is eager to honor those who stepped up to help limit the spread of COVID-19 litter.  Awards will be presented to counties, municipalities, agencies, businesses, community organizations and individuals dedicated to making the state cleaner during the pandemic.

Awards will be presented at the New Jersey State League of Municipalities Conference, Nov 17 at 2 p.m., at the Atlantic City Conference Center. The awards are sponsored by Coca-Cola, Covanta, Jersey Central Power & Light, New Jersey Food Council and Wakefern Food Corp./ShopRite.

“We are looking for the best of the best,” Huber said. “We recognize the critical importance of sharing information, and want to publicize some great work around New Jersey that has helped keep people safe.”

Applicants are urged to visit NJClean.org to apply.