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Organizer: Green Up Day Has Lasted 45 Years 'Because Vermonters Care So Much'

Chloe Boyce
Green Up Vermont
Melinda Vieux, president of the nonprofit that runs Green Up Day, says that the holiday has lasted for 45 years because Vermonters care about the environment and because people have been working behind the scenes to keep organizing it each year.

This weekend we celebrate the uniquely-Vermont holiday known as Green Up Day. It's a time where people all over the state get out in the gullies, ditches and roadsides of their neighborhoods to pick up trash. The bright green trash bags pile up on back roads and commuter thoroughfares to get picked up in the following days.

Green Up Day is 45 years old this year and Melinda Vieux, president of the nonprofit that runs Green Up Day, joined Vermont Edition to talk about the event and its history.

On the history of the day

Green Up Day originated in tandem with Vermont's landmark law banning billboards, which was passed in 1968. “It was a time in Vermont, and around the world, that there was growing interest in environmental things,” says Vieux. After the billboard law passed, she says, roadside litter began to attract attention, and an effort was mounted to organize Vermonters to help clean it up. Gov. Dean Davis helped launch the program and the first official Green Up Day started in 1970. From 9 a.m. until 12 p.m. on the first holiday, organizers shut down the highway through an act of Congress.

On why it’s still happening 45 years later

“I think it’s because Vermonters care so much about Vermont,” says Vieux. “They care about the environment, about pride in Vermont and because we’ve been working behind the scenes to keep organizing Green Up Day.” Vieux says that if people didn’t care, it wouldn’t still be around.

How much does it cost to run Green Up Day?

The total budget is $133,000, says Vieux, which covers two part-time employees, advertising and over 50,000 of the iconic green trash bags.

Why Vermont doesn’t have an Adopt-A-Highway program

Vieux says that they tried to start the program in 1996, but that no one was interested. “At that time, there was a wonderful organizer who said to me, ‘You know, it’s everybody’s responsibility. It’s not just two miles for the Cub Scouts or McDonalds’, so we did not enact it,” says Vieux. “The truth … is that Adopt-A-Highway does not solve the litter problem. The folks with it know that. What they don’t know is what they are missing with Green Up Day.”

On the effectiveness of Green Up Day

“The unfortunate truth is that litter is a world-wide problem,” says Vieux. She says that when she started the job in 1996, she wanted to eliminate litter entirely, but that now she realizes that’s not possible. She says that Green Up Day not only helps to take care of Vermont’s environment, but also brings the community together.

On the new universal recycling law and Green Up Day

The new universal recycling law will ban recyclables — including aluminum cans, glass containers, paper and more — from landfills, which will have a big impact on the process of Green Up Day. “It’s a work in progress,” says Vieux. “At this point we don’t know the absolute answer [on how it will change] … but a lot of those recyclable that are picked up out there are too dirty to actually put into recycling, so it may be that they will continue to have to go to the landfill.”

Green Up Day events are organized by individual towns, so visit your town website or call up your town clerk for information on how to get the sanctioned trash bags and find out about any special events.

Patti is an integral part of VPR's news effort and part of the team that created Vermont Edition. As executive producer, Patti supervises the team that puts Vermont Edition on the air every day, working with producers to select and research show ideas, select guests and develop the sound and tone of the program.
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
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