VOL. 11 | NO. 27 | Saturday, July 7, 2018
Clean Memphis Celebrates 10 Years Of Fighting Litter, Blight in Community
By Michael Waddell
Clean Memphis founder and executive director Janet Boscarino considers her nonprofit’s work to make Memphis greener, cleaner and environmentally sustainable over the past 10 years a gift because of the many neighborhood connections she’s made.
Clean Memphis provides education to help students better understand the implications of their generation’s actions on the local and global environment. (Submitted)
Before starting Clean Memphis, Boscarino worked in business development for 20 years traveling around for various companies.
“I noticed at that point in time that several of the cities that I visited like Minneapolis and Indianapolis were super clean, and they had a lot of focus on their green spaces and public spaces,” she said. “There was just a real absence of litter.”
She wondered what she could do as an average citizen to make Memphis cleaner, and she wanted to create a space where more people could be involved.
“It just seemed like the level of care and people taking care of things had declined through the years,” said Boscarino. “We wanted to create a space where people felt like it was their responsibility and they could plug in and do things.”
Memphis is using the same strategy that has worked so well for Minneapolis and Indianapolis, with the city divided into smaller geographic areas.
“Through the years, we built a lot of community partnerships, connecting with businesses, schools, and faith-based groups to work on various issues,” said Boscarino. “I’m really most proud of our role as connector in bringing people together to support neighborhoods. If we weren’t here, how would those connections be made?”
She also realized early on that there was lack of educational outreach in the city, so Clean Memphis began to develop an educational platform focused on litter abatement and how litter negatively affects our water supply.
“That has grown, and now we have two full-time teachers on staff who provide environmental education across all areas of sustainability trying to raise a generation of kids to better understand how to interact with their environment and to understand the implications of their actions on the local and global environment,” said Boscarino.
Last year, Clean Memphis reached more than 12,000 students at 58 schools with STEM-based programming.
“Not only are we teaching them in the classroom, we take them out in their community to do a service project connected to that education. So it’s fostering a cultural change for them,” said Boscarino.
The nonprofit led 69 community-based cleanup, blight and beautification projects in 2017, with the largest being the MLK Day of Service in January when more than 2,000 volunteers team up to clean up the city. Work includes litter cleanup, blight remediation, adopting lots, creating pocket parks, and converting vacant lots into gardens.
The projects last year resulted in 34,605 pounds of litter removed, 47 vacant lots cleaned and cleared, 21 lots converted to gardens or pocket parks, 14 new corporate teams engaged, 13 new community leaders trained to identify, report, and address cleanup and blight.
“As principal, one of my biggest goals was to make the school more green-friendly, more sustainable, more friendly to the economy and environment, but I wasn’t sure how to do it,” said Dr. Menthia Bradley, COO and former principal of Memphis Business Academy Schools. “
By working with Clean Memphis, students and staff became more involved with environmental causes, such as fighting against landfills in Frayser and Hickory Hill.
“They helped us to learn more about blight, toxins, the relationship between poverty and how communities are chosen for certain businesses,” said Bradley.
She hopes the kids will take a deeper dive into what will make Memphis a better, greener place. The schools recycle, winning several recycling challenges locally.
“We’ve also changed our light bulbs, our water faucets – we’ve made huge changes,” said Bradley. “But the most important thing is the mindset shift: that this is our Earth, we have to love it, we’re responsible to keep it, and each of us is important in doing so, however we contribute.”
Every year, the schools have expanded green programs. Now all of the students get to garden, there’s an outdoor classroom, and MBA has relationships with the Kitchen Community and the University of Memphis More program.
“That program exposes our children to environmental projects and processes with graduate students from the University of Memphis, so it’s a win-win because our kids are able to see other types of careers that they might not have known about of if we weren’t involved with Clean Memphis,” said Bradley.
For the Shelby County Mayor’s Summer Youth Fight Blight program, Clean Memphis provided education and on-board training as well as the creation of cleanup routes, trash removal inside the city and outcomes tracking. Approximately 100 youth from 10 communities helped to remove more than 100,000 pounds of litter, and 65 kids received a bonus for perfect attendance.
Also under the Clean Memphis umbrella, currently 57 restaurants participate in Project Greenfork, recycling more than 800,000 gallons of plastic, glass, and metal; nearly 550,000 pounds of cardboard and paper, and composting nearly 150,000 gallons of food waste.
The nonprofit also sends out two crews every day doing litter pickup in high-profile areas of the city.