Founder and Executive Director of Keep Massachusetts Beautiful (KMB) Neil Rhein led off the 2020 Massachusetts Clean Community Awards which was held virtually on December 3. Rhein, who also serves on the Select Board in Mansfield, explained the mission of the nonprofit organization KMB. Goals of the organization include litter prevention and cleanup, volunteer empowerment, recycling and waste reduction, beautification and community greening, and education and behavior change.
There are currently 28 local chapters of KMB around the state. The five newest chapters include Newton, Salem, Beverly, Shrewsbury, and Fitchburg. Rhein also thanked the local chapter leaders including Jeanne Kling of the Halifax Beautification Committee. He also noted that 23 of the 28 chapter leaders are women. Some of the highlights of the organization from the last year include distributing litter cleanup kits to local chapters in the spring of 2020, launching the litter cleanup crew in July, and distributing $2,500 via the annual plant something beautiful grants.
Rhein announced the night’s award winners including Shirley Graf of Halifax being named the KMB Litter Buster of the Year. Rhein described the award as being the most coveted of the night and said that they had nine deserving nominees that year. He described the award saying, “It’s really for those unsung heroes who are out there doing the dirty work of cleaning up other people’s messes.” He said that what set Graf apart from the other amazing litter busters is “her passion for the scourge of nip litter.”
Beginning in January of 2019, Graf made a decision to begin documenting the nip bottles she collected into a spreadsheet. As of October 2020, she had collected and stored 5,220 bottles over the course of 20 months. Graf donated those bottles to the Keep Gardner Beautiful Nip Hunt. Another of the night’s awards winners Jim Kraskouskas of Anthony’s Liquor Mart in Gardner, won for KMB Business Partner of the Year. Kraskouskas organized a nip pickup in October where he offered to pay 5 cents for every bottle picked up through 100,000 bottles. As a result of those collected nips, including the ones donated by Graf, Kraskouskas donated nearly $2,500.
In the last few weeks alone, Graf has collected an additional 700 nip bottles. As of early December, she said she had reached 6,018 total nips collected with more than 3,000 of those collected within a mile of her home. In addition to the nips that Graf collects she also picks up other forms of trash across the towns of Halifax, Pembroke, Duxbury, and Marshfield. Graf also helped to persuade the Halifax Board of Selectmen to support Massachusetts House Bill 2881 which would add nips to the bottle bill. While it didn’t pass, the hope is that it will be resurrected in January.
Graf spoke at the awards ceremony taking the time to thank Kling who was the one to nominate her. “I would particularly like to thank Jeanne Kling, the Chairwoman of the Beautification Committee who nominated me for this award.” Kling said of Graf, “It has been a pleasure to get to know Shirley over the last few years. She always has a smile and an encouraging word. She truly inspires others through her actions; it’s hard to imagine a more admirable or deserving candidate.” Graf thanked both the Monponsett Watershed Association and the Halifax Beautification Committee for their work to promote cleaner roadways and waterways.
Graf said that she first learned more about KMB through a chance encounter with the previous year’s Litter Buster of the Year award winner, Peter Walter. Graf said that she randomly ran into Walter while he was also out and about picking up litter. Walter spoke and thanked Rhein and KMB for their efforts.
In addition to the Litter Buster of the Year, several other awards were also given out. Senator Jamie Eldridge of the Middlesex and Worcester district was named as the Environmental Legislator of the Year. He is the Senate Chair of the Clean Energy Caucus and has sponsored several bills to increase the use of solar energy and other renewable energies. Fellow state senator Paul Feeney called Eldridge an “unapologetic advocate for bold legislation.” The Municipal Partner of the Year was awarded to Doug Munroe of the Gardner DPW. Nancy Wall of Keep Mansfield Beautiful was awarded the Chapter Leader of the Year award. Rookie Chapter of the Year went to Keep Fitchburg Beautiful.
The final award of the night for the KMB Youth Volunteers of the Year went to Nate Lord and Ben Feldman of Natick. Rhein explained that this was a new award this year and said that one of the goals of the KMB is to inspire future generations. “The median age of our volunteers is probably not within Gen Z or even Millennials,” Rhein explained.
Senator Feeney also spoke about the importance of getting the younger generations involved. Feeney said that he was recently on a Zoom call for a public hearing in the community he represents. “The crux of the debate was about the protection of a beautiful swath of open space… hiking trails and hundred-year-old trees that are filled with wildlife,” Feeney explained. He said that over 20 high school students from an agricultural school were there to testify. He said that over the course of the hearing, the students began to change their backgrounds to images of Dr. Suess’ The Lorax, a story which tells of the danger of human destruction on the environment.
Democratic Presidential Nominee and former Governor of Massachusetts from 1975 to 1979 and again from 1983 to 1991 Michael Dukakis also spoke at the event. Dukakis said that he first become interested in community cleanup due to the state of the city of Boston when he first became involved in politics. He described Boston as “filthy” and said “litter was everywhere.” Dukakis, who said he turned 87 on Election Day, recently retired from teaching at Northeastern University. He said that he would walk home from his job at Northeastern and pickup litter daily. “I pick up litter, I hope you pick up litter, I hope everyone picks up litter,” he said.
Dukakis shared a sentiment that had been expressed by others over the course of the night. He said he was concerned with the degree of seriousness with which the state government is appearing to take the issue of community cleanup. He ended by saying, “What’s this all about? A sense of pride, a sense of caring, a sense of how we make our communities something that we can be proud of.”
A website and several social media accounts exist for KMB including Keepmassbeautiful.org. Emails can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.