Justin Marsh, VCV’s Political Outreach Director, has deep roots in Vermont, particularly in Lamoille County. They live on their family’s farm in Cambridge, where many generations have and continue to work the lands. Since 2012, Justin has served on the Cambridge Conservation Commission and as chair for the majority of their tenure.

Lucy Higgins (left) and Justin Marsh participate in Orange Up Day in Cambridge. Photo by Amy Noyes/Vermont Public, 2015

Justin has spearheaded Orange Up Day, which might sound like “Green Up Day” to you, where communities gather to clean up their roadways. Cambridge’s 2022 Orange Up Day will be held on Saturday, October 29th. What is Orange Up Day, though? We wanted to ask Justin a few questions.

Hey Justin, what’s Orange Up Day, and how did it get started?

In the fall of 2015, our commission was having a conversation about how the browning grasses and barren trees really exposed the amount of trash that littered our roadsides. I believe it was something as simple as someone posing the question as to why a fall litter clean-up event didn’t exist, and that inspired us to create this event. As the conversation unfolded, so did concerns about encouraging our community to be outside along rural backroads during hunting season. We knew wearing bright colors was important, which birthed the idea that the bags themselves could also be bright! We purchased orange trash liners with our modest budget, and during the first few years we only had a few participants, mostly those on the commission, but it has since grown and become something our community remembers and looks forward to. We have worked with our town highway crew and our selectboard who have generously allowed a designated drop-off spot and dumpster at our town garage. 

Is this something I could organize in my own community?

Oh, absolutely. According to a conversation I had with organizers at Green Up Vermont, many towns have implemented a fall clean-up event here and there. But to their knowledge, Cambridge wins the award for the most consistent event, as we are now on year eight. Last year our neighboring town of Johnson got involved and we gave them some of our orange bags to help launch their event. Orange bags are just our way of making it fun and different, but you can use any supplies you desire — the key is picking up the trash before the snow buries it for the winter. We just purchased our second box of orange bags after so many years and the town now foots the bill for disposal, so with some coordination, the annual expense for our commission to put on this event is pretty minimal. 

2022 Orange Up Day poster

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve picked up on the side of the road?

Last year our commission member, Sara Lourie, picked up and counted 1,309 cigarette butts. Every time she goes out she counts them and the numbers always astonish me. We poll our community every spring for Green Up Day and we submit all entries into a drawing for some Green Up Vermont merch. We ask them a few questions, like what their most interesting and disgusting finds are, and we’ve gotten some really strange and odd responses. Diapers rank pretty consistently on the disgusting list along with bagged dog poop. But as far as interesting goes, I think my favorite was someone finding a Rod Stewart CD that included the hit, “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” Well, no, Rod. Nothing is sexy about roadside litter. 

What do you see as the most important part of Orange Up Day, in the context of combating climate change?

Our roadsides are not a dumping ground for our waste. It still astonishes me, as a lifelong Vermonter who doesn’t know of a Vermont without Green Up Day (the first one was in 1970), who participated in the event all through school (and our commission still partners with the elementary school doing roadside clean-up field trips), that there are still people who feel the need to toss their trash out the window of their vehicle. But since it still happens, and more trash is picked up every year, the importance of these events is still critical. The toxins from trash that seep into the soils and waterways are a large threat to ecosystems. Cigarette butts take years to decompose — and remember one person picked up 1,309 during one day alone—and the entire time they do, the nasty chemicals and toxins remain.