It’s too easy for some people to walk down the street and toss their trash into a storm drain without remembering that they empty into the Hudson River. But what if that gutter was decorated with some sea critters, or a wave? It’d be harder to ignore.
That’s exactly what Hoboken’s Green Team (a five-year-old community group) and the New Jersey Watershed Ambassadors Program (a statewide environmental community service program based in Trenton) have partnered to do in the Mile Square City.
Recently, both groups announced a competition to decorate the city’s storm drains.
Several Hoboken public and private schools painted two dozen murals for the competition as the city prepares for Earth Day – the worldwide celebration of environmental protection.
“The message is clear: don’t throw trash here,” Alejandra Gaxiola, an art teacher at Hoboken Dual Language Charter School (HoLa), told the Reporter, while helping to paint a mural at Second and Madison streets.
“Hopefully now, an ordinary person tossing something away may stop and realize that, ‘Oh wait, this piece of garbage is going into an ecosystem and maybe I should discard it somewhere else’.” – Jeff Train
“It’s sad, because when they lose their shells, they take whatever they can find for a new home. And when there’s garbage, they make do with that,” said Alejandra, noting that gum had to be scraped from the drain before the students could paint over it.
Jeff Train of The Hoboken Green Team, which meets monthly, said the project has him looking at storm drains in a new light.
“I’m really starting to see how bad they can get. I see bottles, cigarettes, plastic bags and food,” he said. He noted that the public school’s Green Team, as well as Chris Della Fave (the district’s Gifted and Talented coordinator) and Tony Boloney’s, a pizza place on First Street, also made the competition possible.
“Hopefully now, an ordinary person tossing something away may stop and realize that, ‘Oh wait, this piece of garbage is going into an ecosystem and maybe I should discard it somewhere else,’ ” he said.
Both private and public schools participated in the competition, including Hoboken Charter School, Calabro School, Hoboken High School, Connors School, Wallace School, The Hudson School, and the Hoboken Dual Language Charter School (HoLa).
Nearby at Second and Monroe streets, Gillian Forbes, an 11-year-old sixth grader at Connors School, was working with classmates to finish another mural: an airplane flying near a cloud with a banner attached to it, reading, “Only Rain Down the Drain.”
“I used to sometimes throw garbage down the drain without thinking…but now I don’t,” said Gillian, who then explained her chosen career. “I like art. I want to pursue fashion when I get older.”
Among other designs is a hand dropping a cigarette directly into the ocean and a play on the “Jaws” movie poster with a shark poking out of a littered ocean.
In addition to making residents and visitors aware of the costs of littering, the competition allows Hoboken to gain points from Sustainable New Jersey. Sustainable New Jersey is a non-profit organization that “provides tools, training and financial incentives to support communities as they pursue sustainability programs.” Currently, Hoboken has received “Bronze” status among cities it is hoping to certify as “sustainable” for pursuing eco-friendly programs.
“Technically all storm drains in the state need to be labeled so passerby know they can’t litter,” said Elizabeth Balladares of the NJ Watershed Ambassadors Program. “This is just a more creative way to achieve that.”
The winner of the competition, who will then be asked to paint a mural near City Hall, will be announced this week on Earth Day, Friday, April 22. The team that designed and painted the winning mural will receive a pizza party, although Train said the project is mainly about “informing the community and generating meaningful art.”
“I think it’s a great and fun way to raise awareness,” Mayor Dawn Zimmer said while canvassing the streets to see the murals. “We don’t want you flicking cigarettes into the drains or people putting garbage into the drains. That hurts the environment and this is a great way to make people conscious of that.”
Steven Rodas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.