By Nicholas Vercilla —
Among the most bizarre finds when Dianne Swan and her volunteer team were cleaning up Homewood was when they found an abandoned backhoe in an alleyway.
Alicia Carberry spent her birthday helping to pick up 50 tires and a dump truck full of debris in Beltzhoover.
Patty Chavez routinely picks up hypodermic needles that are inches away from children’s playgrounds.
Those are just some of the experiences and the dedication that is displayed by the members of the Clean Pittsburgh Commission.
“Each person brings a different strength to the table,” said Sarah Alessio Shea, the Chair of the Clean Pittsburgh Commission.
The Clean Pittsburgh Commission, also known as the CPC, is a volunteer organization that is comprised of members from different litter groups in and around Pittsburgh, such as Allegheny Cleanways and Pittsburgh Public Works. The CPC was created in 2005 after the Pittsburgh City Council created a commission to help fight litter.
Shea says that the main goals of the CPC include quality of life programs. These include cleaning up litter, encouraging recycling, stopping illegal dumping, and focus on beautification.
Shea was part of a group that included other members of the commission in which they went around every neighborhood in Pittsburgh to record the amount of litter at each of them. They would then base the litter index on a 1 to 4 scale with a 4 being the highest concentration of litter. She said that the overall average of Pittsburgh was a 2.4.
Shea is thankful for all of the support that each member brings and is hopeful that they can work to improve the city every day through their actions.
“We can make a bigger difference if we put all these resources together,” said Shea.
Swan, who represents Rosedale Block Cluster Inc., has been a member since summer 2015 and was invited to join by Pittsburgh’s Mayor Bill Peduto.
Swan regularly picks up trash in any high-traffic areas as well as parking lots all over Pittsburgh. On the day she found the backhoe, Swan said that she and her team were picking up litter in Homewood when one of her members found it. She said that everybody was shocked and surprised by the discovery. They did test to see if it was working, in the end they discovered it wasn’t.
Swan and her team then had to physically take the backhoe apart in order for it to be carried away. She said however that all of it was worth it to keep her area clean and safe for everyone.
“I think it’s important because if you have a clean place for everyone, it promotes better conduct,” said Swan.
Carberry, a community advocate for the CPC, leads a program called “Neighborhood of Focus,” in which volunteers under the guidance of the CPC go to troubled and littered neighborhoods for a year to clean and provide the tools and education to maintain it for the future.
The first year for the program was in 2014 in which the group worked in Hazelwood. The group held a summer camp whose goal was to help provide education on litter prevention, recycling, and watershed awareness.
There was also a series of massive cleanups in 14 empty lots and three roadsides. During the 116 hours of cleaning, more than 25,000 pounds of vegetation and 22,000 pounds of trash were removed.
Over the past year, the group concentrated its efforts in Beltzhoover, Allentown, and Knoxville.
Carberry is very passionate by her work and what she finds when she picks up litter. She loves to collect old bottles that she tends to find from the 1920s and the 1930s. She says that it is fun for her to “pull from Pittsburgh’s past.”
One day when Carberry and her volunteer team were in Hazelwood, they discovered a massive illegal dump site where they found the normal assortment of worn-down couches, and refrigerators. What shocked her the most was when they uncovered a rusted car.
Overall, she is happy with the work that she does because of the ways she works directly with the community.
“It’s been about connecting to organizations who do great work already,” said Carberry.
Rosenfeld has one of the busiest work schedules on the CPC. She represents Pittsburgh Public Works and is the Anti-Litter Coordinator for the city. She responds to numerous 311 calls every day and goes and investigates illegal dumpsites all over Pittsburgh. The 311 hotline is where any person or group can report an illegal dumpsite in the city.
One dump site memory that sticks out to her was when she was investigating one in Homewood in 2014 when she noticed that there were piles of papers. After looking carefully, she found out that somebody threw out financial statements, a social security number, and other highly sensitive information. She was able to collect all the documents and give them back to the owner before anyone else got the information.
Along with the clean-ups, Rosenfeld has also formed a partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to install security cameras to catch people in the act. The cameras tend to catch people who dump construction and demolition equipment, as well as a growing rise of e-waste, which includes TVs and computers.
“Illegal dumping doesn’t have boundaries,” said Rosenfeld. “It tends to occur in greenway areas and alleys that are rarely seen.”
Patty Chavez is the longest-serving member of the commission. Chavez has been around since its inception in 2005. Before joining the CPC, she was a volunteer picking up trash in city parks and playgrounds. Now, she serves as the secretary and works on creating any sign that the CPC would need for its endeavors. Some of these signs include the no dumping or littering signs as well as the ones that show how much of a fine one will get if he or she litters.
She also helps organize the annual Bob Awards, named after former Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O’ Connor, who started the city’s “Reddup” Campaign during his short tenure. It is an award show that celebrates all of the individual achievements made by volunteers in the 99 neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. She is proud of her work at the CPC and is grateful for all of its members.
“I think we all work well together,” said Chavez. “We’re friends as well as business associates.”
Justin Stockdale and Kyle Winkler are both members on the commission that try to educate the community on how to prevent litter and how it affects the environment overall.
Both of them, however, have been in the field and know what challenges they face. Stockdale, who represents the Pennsylvania Resources Council, is finding ways to properly collect and dispose of television sets after the state government passed a law stating that they are not to be put in landfills anymore.
Winkler, when he is not working for the CPC or the Pittsburgh Bureau of Environmental Services, works as a volunteer at the Spring Garden and East Deutschtown Community Group in the North Side. His funniest find: toilets and toilet seats in the East Deutschtown area that apparently were there for years before they were removed.
Erica Deyarmin-Young, who is a representative of Waste Management Inc, has worked a great deal for the Commission. She is involved with work on landfills, dump sites, recycling, as well as working with community involvement, and the media. She says that experiences with her work that stick out to her is when she has to travel to Harrisburg in order to talk to different government officials on the conditions of the area and what can be done to improve them.
One new program that was a result of this is a new “At Your Door” program, where any municipality or company can sign up for a curbside or door service to remove any e-waste or other hazardous materials. The collected items are either recycled or are properly disposed of.
She is also a volunteer in PennDot’s Adopt-A-Highway Program in which she helps clean up a two-mile stretch of a road four times a year. She remembers one time when she first started in the group she was picking up litter on the road when somebody threw their bottles out of their car.
“That was my first taste of how bad litter is,” said Deyarmin-Young.
However, she is still invested into her work and is thankful for all of the support and effort that the other members of the CPC give her and each other.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to be a part of,” said Deyarmin-Young.