Before COVID-19, Wilton’s Environmental Affairs Department held an annual Town-wide Cleanup each spring, inviting residents to volunteer to fan out across Wilton and pickup garbage along town roadways and waterways. The 2020 event was scrapped with the pandemic, because authorities didn’t want the potential risk of volunteers contracting or transmitting the virus.
Now, for the second year in a row, town staff determined once again they’d be unable to organize the clean-up. With new limits on gathering still undefined by the CT Department of Public Health and an increased departmental workload due to Inland Wetland Permitting activities, Environmental Affairs director Mike Conklin announced during last Wednesday’s (May 5) Conservation Commission meeting that his department is unable to take the lead on sponsoring or doing legwork to arrange the event.
It was a lucky coincidence then that the evening’s meeting included a compelling presentation by Wilton fourth grade student, Elyse Pencu.
Earlier this year, Pencu won the title of Wilton Ms. President at the fourth annual Ms. President US election, a program that enables girls in grades 4-8 to learn about government, public speaking and women’s history, among other things.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the well-spoken young girl explained that her Ms. President campaign focused on the serious issue of littering, “What we can do to help and what we can do to stop it.”
Pencu went on to say that, like many families in Wilton, she and her family “discovered trails that we never knew about” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Even though these trails have a lot to offer, littering takes away from what the trails could be,” she told the commission.
Using simple but vivid examples of the impact of litter on animals, Pencu offered irrefutable evidence of how detrimental even a single food scrap or bottle could be.
She added, “I’ve been on trails and hikes many, many times. It’s so nice until I see these plastic bags on the side of the trail.”
Pencu told the commission about a program she organized her school that is already underway. With guidance from Cider Mill School Principal Dr. Jennifer Falcone and the backing of Wilton’s Zero Waste Schools Coalition, Pencu launched the “Let’s Make Wilton Clean” competition.
To participate, students pick up trash they find in their neighborhoods (wearing gloves and avoiding broken glass) and earn points for every bag filled, recording their progress on a Google sheet. The class with the most points by May 20 will win a pizza party.
Unfortunately, “Even though I’m doing all that, it’s not enough, there’s still so much litter out there,” Pencu lamented.
Undaunted by that reality, Pencu told the commission she wanted “to raise awareness and make our town a cleaner and safer place” and asked for the commission’s help to make one more idea a reality.
“I understand that the town hasn’t given permission to do the annual town cleanup in the past two years. I want to work with all of you to try to convince the town that we can hold a town cleanup in a COVID safe way. We can work together for a cleaner Wilton.”
Commission chair Jackie Algon responded to Pencu’s presentation by saying, “Bravo! Thank you so much for sharing your time and your very enthusiastic idea. Congratulations on your achievement.”
Algon then offered a little teaser. “Mike [Conklin] has some news on that front and it is pretty exciting,” she told Pencu.
Conklin, director of Wilton’s Environmental Affairs Department, told Pencu, “Your presentation was phenomenal. And I really think that you’re a model citizen. I think that everybody, young and old, could learn a lot from your presentation and probably hanging out with you for a day.”
He added that even though his department and the town employees would unable to organize the cleanup, he hoped the Commission could instead.
“It would have to be specifically commissioner and volunteer driven and run, but my department would be supplying the garbage bags and work gloves and the dumpster,” he said, noting that it would have to be scheduled after May 19, when many COVID restrictions are slated to be lifted.
Pencu was delighted with Conklin’s announcement. After the meeting, she told Good Morning Wilton she was “very surprised” to hear the news during the meeting. “I thought it would be a lot harder to convince everybody!” she said.
Adding to her delight was Conklin’s announcement that prizes would also be offered, thanks to a $500 donation from the Wilton Kiwanis Club.
Although the Commission is still determining a date, residents can expect an announcement soon. Pencu told GMW, “I can’t wait to get started!”
This astute young lady told GMW that picking up the trash is one way to tackle the problem of littering, but the more important thing, she said, is, “Stop putting out litter in the first place!”
See Elyse’s entire presentation to the commission (starting at roughly the 57-minute mark) in the recorded Zoom meeting.