SALEM — Some people just can't seem to pick up after themselves. So, last week, the Department of Public Works picked up after them — and it amounted to 13,180 pounds of trash.
"The stuff we're picking up isn't heavy stuff," public works Director Rick Russell said. "You have to visualize the concept of Styrofoam cups weighing all that."
Every spring for the last 10 years, the DPW has dispatched all of its employees to pick up litter from the sides of town roads. It's mostly small stuff, like paper cups and aluminum cans, but it adds up to a lot of weight, time and money — it costs $81 per ton to dispose of it.
DPW operations manager Dave Wholley said workers picked up trash along 115 lane miles of 57 streets and in four parking lots. Workers collect trash in bags provided by New Hampshire the Beautiful. Drivers may have noticed them over the last week.
The DPW keeps the litter bags separate from other trash so it can weigh it once it has all been collected. By yesterday afternoon, there was a pile of the bags, and more were still arriving at the transfer station.
Wholley said workers sometimes find dangerous items — weapons, razors, hypodermic needles. Sometimes, the DPW employees find cash.
"We didn't find any satchels full of a million dollars," Wholley said.
"Or Al Capone's safe," Russell added.
They also did not find any VCRs or other video devices. The town began charging $5 apiece to dispose of the them last year. Russell said there was some concern in town that people would illegally dump the items instead of paying the fee, but that hasn't been the case so far.
In addition to getting litter off the streets, Wholley said, the spring cleanup allows DPW employees to get a good look at the shoulders of town roads. They often find damaged culverts or blocked catch basins, he said.
Wholley said the program helps people see how big a problem littering is in Salem.
"When they start seeing every street lined with blue bags, it's extraordinary," he said.
He said he recently saw a man "whip a fast-food bag" out a car window in front of Town Hall.
"I just can't understand the possible gain as to discarding in that fashion, as opposed to the cost to the community," Wholley said.
Russell and Wholley said cleaning up the trash was a matter of DPW workers' pride in their community, and in their proactive approach to keeping it clean.
"We hope that if we're showing that pride, then maybe the people in the community will start to show more pride," Wholley said.
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