Keeping Greenfield beautiful: One local man’s mission of cleaning up the streets

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Recorder Staff

GREENFIELD — Bruce Brownstein has seen a lot change over the years he’s lived in Greenfield, and does his part nearly every day to try to keep the town as beautiful as he remembers it being growing up.

Over the past three years, the 66-year-old Greenfield native has picked up 68,750 pounds of litter off the streets, and he doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon. He said he walks five to seven miles almost every day, using a tool to grab the garbage so he doesn’t have to bend over, and has been able to work through most of the winter this year because of the mild weather.

“When I go somewhere, I want my Greenfield to be beautiful and when I come back, I want it to be beautiful,” he said. “When I’m done and I’m tired and my back is sore, I am so proud of myself and I love simply turning around and seeing cleanliness.”

Brownstein has been picking up garbage his whole life. He said one of his earliest memories is of being in line with his classmates at the Pierce Street School and finding a candy wrapper on the ground.

He remembered his teacher saying, “Mr. Brownstein, stop. What do you see?” Upon pointing to the wrapper, he said she instructed him to put it in his pocket and throw it in the trash can once he went inside.

“I was 4 years old, and it’s one of the silly things that’s stayed with me,” he said.

Brownstein has several pet peeves when it comes to what people throw on the streets, including straw wrappers and broken glass, but what “breaks (his) heart,” he said, is finding litter around the war memorials in town.

He said he often finds coffee cups, soda bottles, snack bags and wrappers strewn across Veterans Mall on Main Street.

“What I see when I go in there is the list of everyone who fought in the Civil War, who fought in World War II, who fought in Vietnam, and I sit there and realize people forget so quickly of how they are here free,” he said. “I clean up to show my respect.”

Brownstein also recalled an instance last year when somebody went through Greenfield at night and spray painted “crack town” on bridge abutments across town. He said he never asked permission, but decided to cover up the graffiti on his own.

“I said if they put me in jail, they put me in jail,” he said.

He added the owner of Sherwin-Williams on Arch Street often gives him free paint to spruce up parts of town.

“He will give me a gallon or two of paint and he’ll say, ‘Go do your thing,’” he said.

Brownstein also gets free trash bags from the town’s Department of Public Works. Last year, he said he filled 575 50-pound bags with garbage he picked up across town.

“I joke with people, when my fingers turn purple, they’re 75-pound bags. When my fingers turn white, they’re 100-pound bags,” he said.

He also wants people to know he does what he does not because he’s eccentric, but because he remembers a time when Greenfield was a booming, beautiful industrial town, and carries those memories with him.

“If you came to Greenfield looking for a home and you went up and down the roads, can you imagine if that 68,750 pounds was still there? It’s not the job of the town of Greenfield to pick up litter,” he said. “I just hope that when I’m done, there will be somebody that puts on a silly hat and a safety vest like me ... and continues to pick up the town’s blue bags and understands the necessity of what I do.”

You can reach Aviva Luttrell at: aluttrell@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268 On Twitter follow: @AvivaLuttrell