SOUTH PORTLAND — Jim Hoy finds pleasure in the simple things: being with his wife, Kandi, maintaining their small backyard garden – and keeping his community free of trash.
Beginning about about 20 years ago, with the help from Kandi and his young children Leslie, Jason and Chris, Hoy began regularly collecting refuse in what he called “the lost zone” of the city – an area that he said tends to be ignored because of attention demanded by major city corridors.
He calls it “the Hoy family zone.”
The area includes the southwest side of the Casco Bay Bridge, along the shoreline to Turner Island, the Greenbelt Walkway and down Broadway, all the way to Hoy’s house on Hill Street.
“We’ll take this path down to the shore,” Hoy said Saturday morning, Sept. 12, as he stood on the Greenbelt looking down the sloped land toward the ocean. A group of bicyclists rode by in a single-file line.
“Good morning!” Hoy said, waving. It was 7:48 a.m.
Hoy grew up in Vermont, and said he remembers clearly how his dad used to take the family out twice a year to pick up trash around their town. As an adult who later had children of his own, he adopted the same sense of stewardship.
There’s a method and a schedule to how Hoy works.
He does one major sweep of the bridge once a year (a haul that usually yields about 120 gallons of trash). Every year he also alternates between an extensive shoreline cleanup of one side of the bridge, and annually completes one large sweep of the zone after the first major snow melt, to remove trash that has collected over the winter.
During the warmer months, Hoy devotes a handful of hours each weekend to picking up trash from a different portion of the zone.
“There are two types of trash in this area,” he said last weekend. “Accidental trash and purposeful trash.”
The accidental trash – bait bags, car parts, and the like – is the kind that inadvertently falls from vehicles driving over the bridge, or boats passing under, and is washed ashore or pushed to the curb.
Purposeful trash – the cigarette boxes and butts, fast-food wrappers, empty liquor bottles and beer cans, even shopping carts – are intentionally left by passersby, Hoy said.
Nonetheless, Hoy tries to remove it all.
At least one morning each weekend during the warmer months, beginning around 5:30 a.m., or 6 a.m. on a lazier day, Hoy takes to the Greenbelt with a pair of walking shoes, at least one trash bag (he keeps more in his truck) and a mechanized trash grabber to better retrieve pieces buried in brambles and bushes.
The larger items that Hoy can’t carry with him, like big pieces of polystyrene, he hauls as close to the road or the Greenbelt as he can, and comes back later with his truck to collect them.
Items like shopping carts from nearby supermarkets (Hoy found two last Saturday morning) are pulled out of their hiding places using a rope and then returned to their stores.
Hoy said his awareness and inclination to take the personal responsibility for picking up trash in this area of the city stems in part from his role in the construction of the Casco Bay Bridge in the 1990s.
As a senior cost estimator at the Portland branch of Amec Foster Wheeler, and having worked previously for Alliance Construction and Ledgewood Construction, Hoy said he became personally invested in creating an ideal gateway to his home city.
“I’ve always thought gateways were important,” he said. “What a different experience (for bicyclists) to cross the bridge and ride these trails and have all the trash removed.”
Hoy, also a cyclist, commutes to work across the bridge on his bicycle each day.
In addition to keeping the trash at bay, he can occasionally be seen trimming the trees next to the bike lane on the southwest side of the bridge as it curves toward the Greenbelt, so that cyclists don’t have to dodge branches while riding next to traffic.
By 8:15 a.m. on Saturday, Hoy had already found a large chunk of polystyrene and nearly filled his trash bag just from walking along the shore.
“Here, I’ll show you one of my favorite dumpsters,” he said seriously as he climbed back up toward the Greenbelt. “This is a great way to get to know your neighborhood,” he said as he waved to more passing bikers after emptying his bag in a nearby trash bin.
“One of the things (when) visiting South Portland, the moment you drive in, this is your first impression of our city,” he said. “Can you imagine if, during your first impression, there was trash blowing around?”
Surprisingly, Hoy doesn’t support the City Council’s current proposal to add a five-cent fee for single-use bags and to ban the use and distribution of polystyrene by retailers that primarily sell food products. Plastic bags and polystyrene aren’t prevalent in the waste he collects, he said, and he thinks the ordinance is unnecessary.
“I personally believe it’s wrong,” Hoy said. “Every time the City Council does something like this, they’re making it harder and harder for people to live here and to stay here.”
Hoy said he doesn’t seek recognition or compensation for his service, and if he misses a weekend here or there, he doesn’t worry about it.
“It’s not a religion to me,” he said, “but it’s a nice way to spend a morning.”
Jim Hoy looks for trash among the brush and trees along the Greenbelt Walkway near the intersection of Broadway and Waterman Drive in South Portland on Saturday, Sept. 12.
Jim Hoy picks up a beer bottle on the South Portland shoreline near the Greenbelt Walkway on Saturday, Sept. 12. At least once a weekend during the warmer months, he walks around his neighborhood and gathers trash in the early morning.