PORTSMOUTH — If you’re driving along Anthony Road, Boyd’s Lane or Park Avenue and you see Randy Matsch picking up trash with his white Dodge pickup truck nearby, give him a honk.
Better yet, pull over and give him a hand.
Mr. Matsch has been doing it alone for months, but he’d love to have some company in sprucing up the roadside.
“I think it’s important that more people take a little more concern or pride — and year round, too. That’s what kills me about Earth Day — it’s one day a year. That’s not enough,” said the 57-year-old Mr. Matsch, who lives in Island Park.
Earth Day, in fact, is what gave him the idea to take his trash-picker, bags and buckets and scour a four-mile roadside loop.
“I do that every year and what I’ve noticed is that they usually concentrate those events in a public area, like along a shoreline or where many people see it,” he said.
Motorists are oblivious
Mr. Matsch, however, was always seeing trash during his runs or bike rides along Anthony Road, Boyd’s Lane and Park Avenue — everything from cigarette butts to bottles of alcohol that are thrown out of car windows. Motorists are generally oblivious to the trash, he said.
“Unless you’re walking by, you don’t see this stuff, because you’re going too fast,” he said.
Last Friday morning he was out at one of his favorite (i.e. dirtiest) spots: Anthony Road, near the Roger Williams University’s Baypoint Inn and Conference Center
“When I got done with Earth Day I came up and actually started right here,” he said. “Just to go maybe a quarter of a mile, it literally took me about six hours — there was that much trash. It’s not just the stuff on the side of the road, but it’s stuff that’s down in the tree line and has been there for many years.”
What he finds runs the gamut. “A lot of it is general trash — paper, McDonald’s bags, hygiene products — stuff like that. But the biggest thing I see are nip bottles and beer. It’s incredible, the amount of alcohol bottles I see,” said Mr. Matsch, who started sorting out trash in order to give people an idea of what he’s finding.
He keeps one large bucket that contains nothing but cigarette butts, which many smokers toss aside with nary a thought. He estimates he’s picked up “at least” 4,000 of them.
“You can see some of them are old,” said Mr. Matsch, who was a smoker himself for 26 years. “They don’t understand that the filter remain for decades, so it just adds up and gets into the ecosystem.”
Besides the normal trash, he’s also found some unusual items, including a $20 bill and a keyless remote to a Ferrari.
“It’s shaped like a Ferrari. It’s got to be a $200 item,” said Mr. Matsch.
Mr. Matsch said he does it all because he loves this town, where he’s lived for 14 years.
“I try to do it at least once or twice a week. Sometimes I pull off on the highway, too,” said Mr. Matsch, who recently stopped his truck on Route 24 to pick up trash in the area of Exit 2.
Sometimes, he’s out eight hours at a time without a break.
“I just get in that mindset and I just keep going at it. My wife thinks I’m crazy,” he said with a laugh. “I like doing this — giving back to the community.
Impeding Mr. Matsch in his efforts somewhat is the fact that he’s currently unemployed.
“I don’t have the money — I’m using my savings now — to drive this thing around and drive back and forth to the transfer station,” said Mr. Matsch, who’s retired from the military and formerly held a government job. “In the beginning I went around and I was kind of vying for assistance because I can’t afford the contractor bags.”
Sure enough, MBC Carpentry on Anthony Road donated some commercial-grade contractor bags and also offered him the use of their dumpster. Mr. Matsch said he was grateful for the help.
“This is my 12th contractor bag,” he said, pointing to a plastic sack that wasn’t quite full. “Each one of these probably represents a four-hour stretch.”
The R.I. Department of Transportation and the town’s Department of Public Works also gave him some trash bags, he said.
More help needed
Mr. Matsch, who’s caught poison ivy while combing the tall grass for trash, said he often feels like he’s fighting an uphill battle.
“What’s kind of disheartening is that after a period of two to three weeks after I’ve completed an area, you see it build right up back again,” he said.
That’s why he would like to see more people stopping their vehicles once in a while to pitch in. “I’ve had my wife and my granddaughter out here with me on occasion. It’s nice to see others do it,” he said.
He gets the occasional honks and words of gratitude from passing motorists, which he said helps keep him going. (On Friday, Mr. Matsch handed over his set of jumper cables to a driver who had stopped for assistance. They were returned about 10 minutes later.)
“It’s nice to get the recognition,” he said, recalling the time he was scouring for trash on Boyd’s Lane when a woman stopped to thank him. “She said, ‘You’ve actually motivated me to get my kids out here and do it.’ If it affects one or two people, then it’s worth it.”
Mr. Matsch said he’s traveled all around the area and based on what he’s seen, Portsmouth has a bigger trash problem than most.
“You get into certain towns and over time you realize, ‘Wow, this town is really clean.’ I’d like to see Portsmouth look like that some day,” he said.
“It you give up on the planet, that’s a bad thing. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”