WIGGINS: Thousands help make Gwinnett more beautiful

For more than a quarter of a century, Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful has worked with community partners, friends and neighbors to improve Gwinnett's environment. Since our beginning in 1980, we have removed millions of pounds of litter and planted an untold number of trees and flowers. We have recycled millions of pounds of recyclables and instilled a sense of conservation in generations of children and adults.

During the past eight weeks, more than 22,000 people showed that "Green Starts Here." They joined millions of volunteers from around the country to participate in the nation's largest community improvement effort. This effort, Keep America Beautiful's Great American Clean Up, was coordinated locally by Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful.

Recycling became more of a habit for thousands of people. These dedicated recyclers collected more than a million pounds of recyclables, enough to fill a convoy of 23 tractor-trailers. This included 102,540 pounds of plastic bottles, 1,095,250 pounds of paper, 244,980 pounds of glass bottles and jars, 63,580 pounds of aluminum and steel, and 5,204 pounds of electronics.

Cleaning up and beautifying our parks and roadways was the focus of 855 dedicated volunteers. These volunteers planted 483 trees and flowers, removed litter from 100 miles of roadways -- the distance from Duluth to Macon -- and picked up enough litter to fill all of the garbage carts in a 350-home neighborhood.

Helping others also became a highlight of this year's event. More than 1,000 pairs of shoes and 30 bags of clothing were collected to assist local charities and earthquake victims in Haiti.

This year's Great American Clean Up also provided many learning opportunities. Fifty-two community workshops and awareness events were held and 5,587 people learned about how to care for our environment and improve our quality of life.

GC&B recognized and awarded cash prizes to three groups of environmental stewards for their outstanding efforts during the 2010 Great American Clean Up:

* The city of Lawrenceville and Georgia Gwinnett College team received the first place award and cash prize of $1,000. This team's 20 members invested 60 hours removing litter, weeding flower beds, trimming trees and shrubs, planting 111 trees and shrubs, and mulching areas to reduce weeds and save water. Their efforts helped transform the Lawrenceville Depot and Louise Cooper Park to improve not only our community, but our environment as well.

* The Greening Youth Foundation, in partnership with Brookwood Elementary, Craig Elementary and Crews Middle Schools, earned the second place award and cash prize of $500. This team held an Earth Day Fun Festival and recruited 70 volunteers and recycled 8,604 pounds of electronics, batteries, shredded paper and plastic bags.

* The Foxmoor Community Group won the third place award and $250. This team's 15 neighbors turned the main entrance to their subdivision from "drab to fab." More than 50 trees, shrubs and flowers are now creating a brand new image for their neighborhood.

Bartow Morgan, chairman of the board of Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful, said, "These organizations, individuals and families are appreciated for the sweat equity they have invested in Gwinnett. Their efforts are reminding all of us that a better environment and quality of life starts in our own backyards."

Connie Wiggins is executive director of Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful. To learn more, visit www.gwinnettcb.org.