Public Health & Recreation

Cozy Rhody, PVD Bike Jam to Join Forces for Litter Cleanup

West River in Providence, behind Esek Hopkins Middle School, before a recent cleanup. (Sarah Liew)

When Sarah Liew moved from China to Bristol, R.I., she was shocked to see the amount of litter marring the state’s otherwise attractive green spaces.

“Most people think of pollution when they think of China,” Liew said. “But [in China] giving people beautiful places to walk is prioritized, and older people often are tasked with litter clean-up both to give them something to do and to keep them engaged with the community.”

Liew had community engagement in mind when, early in the pandemic, she founded Cozy Rhody, a volunteer litter cleanup crew. During Liew’s daily pandemic-fueled, restlessness-combating walks with her young son, she encountered seemingly endless amounts of litter. She thought that by bringing a volunteer cleanup crew together, she could not only build a community in her new home, but she could also make it more beautiful.

The same area of the West River in Providence after a Cozy Rhody cleanup. (Alden Leso)

Cozy Rhody’s twice-a-month cleanup efforts have increased since the group’s inception. Liew and a group of volunteers now head out once a week, trash pickers in hand, to start their often formidable task. But they don’t always visit the expected places. “We choose random embankments or street corners that just don’t look nice,” Liew said. “In some spots, if you could dig out the first 6 inches with an excavator, you’d find nothing but trash. It’s super daunting.”

Tackling this task requires a lot of hands, so Cozy Rhody frequently collaborates with like-minded organizations to introduce new volunteers to the often satisfying task of picking up litter. The opportunity for one such collaboration arose when Elena Nilan, a Cranston resident and member of PVD Bike Jam (PBJ) got in touch.

One evening a month, PBJ gathers hundreds of bikers together for a themed music- and light-accompanied ride through Providence. Founder John Deignan said of the group, “The PBJ crew coalesced around the idea that riding bikes together is fun as hell. It also lets riders experience the city in a way that can’t be achieved behind the wheel of a car.”

But PBJ isn’t just a gonzo exercise group. Diegnan also considers the jam a peaceful demonstration. “We show Providence that biking is a viable and accessible way to get around, and we highlight the need for better infrastructure,” he said. 

Nilan likes to be able to walk out her front door and commune with nature. Her favorite spot is a stretch of bike path near her home, but the path recently became less inviting. “Over the winter, I noticed litter piling up and I stopped going there because it just wasn’t visually restful anymore,” she said. Nilan found it necessary to travel farther and farther from her front door just to get a little fresh air.

She contacted Cozy Rhody after seeing their efforts to remove litter from Gano Street. “I thought between PBJ members and Cozy Rhody, we could spruce the place up in one day,” she said.

That day will be this Sunday, May 15. At 10 a.m., Cozy Rhody volunteers, PBJ members, and anyone else who is interested in removing litter can gather at 85 Garfield Ave. in Cranston. There also will be a bicycle convoy meeting at Kennedy Plaza in Providence at 9:15 a.m. to depart for the cleanup site at 9:30.

Nilan has high hopes for the event. “My vision is that this event can bring awareness to the area. Maybe we could adopt this part of the bike path and come back to it once or twice a year just to keep it safe and clean for everybody who lives nearby. Because there are so many people.”

Liew also is thinking of the long-term impact of her group’s collaboration with PBJ. “PBJ has so many active members, and I’m excited to think about how many new people we can introduce to the world of picking up trash,” she said. “People sometimes join us as a one-off thing, but once they see it for themselves, they become hooked.”

For more information on attending the May 15 cleanup, click here. Volunteers should bring gloves, and trash pickers are recommended. 

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