Q&A with Cleanup Captain Holly Buckley

The Connecticut Cleanup brings dedicated individuals together each fall to clean up the state’s beaches, rivers, and parks. The success of this decades-old program is bolstered by our Cleanup Captains, many of which come back year after year to host events at places they care about. Holly Buckley, a science teacher at the East Lyme High School, has been a Cleanup Captain for over 25 years. We asked Holly about her long-term dedication to the program and how she gets her students involved. 

Q: What motivated you to get involved in the CT Cleanup? 

A: Growing up, I was influenced by my dad who was always environmentally conscious. I ended up studying marine biology and now teach it to high school students, so joining a program that aims to keep Long Island Sound clean was a natural fit for me. 

Q: What has contributed to your success in engaging students with the program? 

A: I have a fantastic co-partner, Laura Ashburn, who helps run the cleanup. While I talk about the cleanups loosely as part of my science classes, she digs deeper into the trash data in her AP environmental science course and ecology club.  

At the event itself, we offer a little extra credit to students who participate. The cleanup can also be used to fulfill community service hours required by clubs, groups, and churches that some of our students belong to. We always have a great turnout; usually between 60 – 110 students show up to help out! 

The cleanups were also one of the best ways to teach students outside during the Spring of 2020.  

East Lyme High School students gather at Hole-in-the-Wall Beach in East Lyme for a cleanup back in 2018.

Q: What are the most common types of trash you collect? 

A: Cigarettes and plastic are the most common. The first year we collected, the number of cigarette butts was horrifying. We had to come up with a system to count them – each tally mark represented 10 cigarette butts. We had over 1100 that year, with only about 6 students participating. 

We also find lots of plastic which blows into our waterways. My family does boat trips to Block Island, and we are always on the lookout for balloons. We have seen so many that I bring a gaff for impaling the balloons to get them out of the water. 

About 400 balloons are collected each year from Connecticut’s beaches, parks, and rivers. Those that make it into Long Island Sound might be collected by our Soundkeeper team or other eco-conscious boaters, but many end up as hazards for wildlife.

Q: What continues to inspire you to lead these cleanups? 

A: I like getting kids involved to help them understand how to be responsible for their local area. I want them to not think twice about picking up trash whether it’s on the beach or in a parking lot. I try to encourage them to leave a place better than they found it. 

Some of the most eye-opening cleanups have been ones after hurricanes. The amount of trash is amazing. We have found grills, signposts, wallets, cell phones, bikes, and much more. My students always get really excited to find the weirdest piece of trash. It can become a game for them. Their excitement inspires me to keep the cleanups happening. 

Q: How has being a Cleanup Captain influenced your own lifestyle? 

A: I try to buy things with less packaging, bring my own grocery bags, and use reusable water bottles. I try to help people see that we need to be responsible for our individual trash and make sure it is disposed of properly. I also try to recycle everything and will take the extra minute to pick up litter. 

Q: What would you tell someone that has never been a part of the Connecticut Cleanup to inspire them to get involved? 

A: You can make a difference in just a few hours at one of these events. If everyone picked up just five pieces of trash each day, the world would be a much cleaner place. The Connecticut Cleanup is a tangible way to be a part of that mission.

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