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Why loose trash covers some Worcester streets, but not others

People in this story

GBH, April 2022

Drive around Worcester and you’ll notice a stark disparity: some neighborhoods are lined with trees, and others with loose trash. Candy wrappers, iced tea bottles, face masks and pizza boxes are routinely scattered around streets, sidewalks and front yards in Worcester’s working-class communities. Some residents, like Christina Cambrelen, say they try to pick up the trash, but it’s futile. “It always stays the same,” said Cambrelen, who lives in a triple-decker in the Bell Hill neighborhood. “It’s disgusting.”

While higher-income communities in Worcester are free of litter, environmental justice experts say the high cost of the city’s mandated yellow trash bags and a complaint-based cleanup system fuel the scattered garbage in working-class areas.City officials say they’ve tried to address the trash problem by funding community cleanups as well as stiffening penalties for illegal dumping.

But past efforts have not been enough to keep Worcester’s historically underserved communities clean. Activists and residents of those neighborhoods say the true fix will require the city to overhaul its trash system. The trash problem stems from a few causes. A lot of the debris on sidewalks are recyclable goods that have blown out of bins. Also, many people don’t have their own trash cans, so when they put their garbage on the curb on pickup day, residents and city officials say it’s easy for raccoons and other animals to rip open the bags and spill the garbage out. And then there’s the infamous “pay-as-you-throw system.”

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