Keeping Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful for 30 years

Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful 

Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful 

LAWRENCEVILLE — In 1980, urban blight was not a part of Gwinnett leaders' vocabulary.

The biggest eyesores in the then-small county were junk cars, often used to describe where to turn to reach the house of a friend.


• March 18, 1980 Board of Commissioners adopt resolution forming Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful Citizens Advisory Board.

• April 11, 1980 Certified as a Keep America Beautiful Affiliate

• 1981 Presented first Clean School Awards, implemented newspaper recycling, implemented aluminum recycling, presented and passed Junked Auto Ordinance

• 1982 Began glass recycling, implemented Dial-A-Truck program, formed Teacher Advisory Board

• 1983 Conducted license tag recycling, developed high school curriculum

• 1984 Developed Clean Builder program, initiated waste management task force, developed new litter ordinance, opened recycling center in Buford, began Christmas tree recycling

• 1985 Developed Environmental patch for Scouts, hired Connie Wiggins as executive director

• 1986 Opened the Recycling Bank of Gwinnett, declared "war on trash" with county commission and police department

• 1987 Developed public service announcements

• 1988 Received first place National Take Pride in America Award, developed new mission statement

• 1990 Developed draft of county's solid waste management plan

• 1991 Implemented Adopt-A-Highway and Adopt-A-Stream programs, began curbside recycling with private haulers

• 1992 Inducted into the U.S. Department of Interior's Hall of Fame

• 1993 Developed and implemented "waste less schools" program

• 1994 Developed community education program, implemented schools white paper recycling program

• 1995 Implemented Operation: Clean Team, initiated Gwinnett Gateway and new Adopt-A-Spot programs

• 1996 Implemented scrap tire demonstration site

• 1997 Initiated first graffiti prevention program in metro Atlanta, trained 700 teachers

• 1998 Implemented Take Pride in Gwinnett program, implemented stormwater education program

• 1999 Conducted Georgia's first environmental quiz bowl, revised county tree ordinance

• 2000 Hosted first annual governor's environmental address, recycled most Christmas trees in Georgia

• 2001 Created Graffiti Hurts Coalition, created and implemented NeighborWoods

• 2002 Initiated Graffiti Busters program

• 2003 Implemented new graffiti legislation and eradication program

• 2004 Spearheaded efforts to update county's litter ordinance

• 2005 Initiated and mechanized single stream processing at Recycling Bank of Gwinnett

• 2007 Launched Great Neighborhood Cleanup

• 2008 Launched schools "No Idling" program with Clean Air Campaign, fire destroyed the Recycling Bank of Gwinnett, stopped management of solid waste program due to preliminary court order

• 2009 Began "Partners in Learning" partnership with Georgia Gwinnett College, downsized and restructured organization, closed the Lawrenceville recycling center

But even then, commissioners wanted to be good stewards of the growing suburban landscape.

They created Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful 30 years ago this week, an organization that became a local affiliate of Keep America Beautiful two months later.

"It was a visionary thought then," said Bartow Morgan, a banker who serves as the current chairman of the 50-member board of directors. "Back then ... who was thinking of tagging graffiti in Norcross?"

According to Director Connie Wiggins, "Some folks have said we were green before green was cool."

The group, which has tracked litter in the community for three decades and worked to foster recycling programs, has found a renewed mission as the county's older communities started on a downward spiral. Several years ago, the group was tasked with helping eradicate graffiti by working with prison inmates to paint over gang tags, a program that led to a 2005 graffiti prevention award from Keep America Beautiful.

Now, with foreclosed homes in even the richest communities and illegal trash dumping becoming a serious issue, the group has even more passion in keeping the community clean.

The leaders know that a beautiful landscape can help attract business and make the community more safe, Morgan said.

Despite a rough year in 2009, where a lawsuit over a garbage plan and subsequent distancing from Gwinnett County government led to a reduction in the nonprofit's staff by 75 percent, board members are creating plans to beef up Adopt A Road programs to compensate for the government's inability to pay to keep medians and rights of way mowed and litter picked up.

They are turning toward the lifeblood of the organization: the volunteers who have cleaned streams and roads and recycled Christmas trees, stenciled storm drains and so much more.

If all 2,500 homeowner associations in Gwinnett adopt a half-mile before their subdivisions' entrance and a half-mile after, the impact would be huge, said board member Pam Ledbetter.

"That's the entrance into their community," she said. "It seems like a no-brainer to me."

Despite all the programs and efforts, Wiggins and Ledbetter said the real difference will be made when people simply decide to take action themselves.

Ledbetter shared a story about a member of her Collins Hill area homeowner association who decided to try a little experiment.

He "planted" a pizza box just outside the subdivision's entrance and waited. For weeks, people walked by with their dogs, cars pulled in and out and no one stopped to pick up the piece of trash.

"It's more about people taking action and trying to solve the problems with the neighbors," Wiggins said, explaining that people often turn to government — which is now overburdened — for a solution. "We know a better environment starts in our backyard."

One way the organization has changed attitudes about the environment is through a decades-long curriculum taught in Gwinnett County Public Schools.

A full-time environmental educator is employed by the nonprofit, with her salary coming from revenues generated by the sale of recycled materials at the Recycling Bank of Gwinnett.

"It's amazing, the things they do. It's a life attitude for (the students)," said board member Mary Root. "The students are the ones that taught the parents."

It was that instinct in children to teach their parents about recycling that led to a huge growth in that area in the 1990s. Recently, though, the statistics on household recycling in Gwinnett have gone down dramatically.

Wiggins said a lot of that can be attributed to confusion and the fact that recycling isn't always an easy feat. A new county trash plan, in which recycling is mandatory, could help with that once it begins in July.

"It's all about a philosophy, a culture you are building," said David Seago, another board member. "This isn't your typical garden club. This is a group that takes action and makes a difference."