Tiverton's first lady of litter


By Natalie Cote

I first met Patricia Sullivan several years ago when I was appointed to the Tiverton Conservation Commission. Ms. Sullivan fascinated and inspired me from the beginning.  Ms. Sullivan grew up in Fall River but spent her summers in Tiverton with her grandmother and then with her family. Pat eventually moved to Tiverton permanently as an adult.

In her retirement, Ms. Sullivan has been active in town affairs, especially with the Conservation Commission and Tiverton Litter Committee, which she spearheaded. A few years ago, Pat decided it was time to retire from both. She continues to work from the sidelines to advise members of both the Commission and the Litter Committee. The Tiverton Litter Committee felt it fitting to interview Ms. Sullivan as the first person to be highlighted on the town’s Let’s Talk Trash website.

• How did the Tiverton Litter Committee start?

“In the late 90’s, a citizen approached the Conservation Commission with a concern regarding trash in the Fogland area.  I was also concerned with litter throughout the town, as were many residents. It was then that the Litter Committee became a subcommittee of the Conservation Commission.  One of our first tasks was to write a Litter Ordinance, unanimously passed by the Council in 2000.”

• How should we educate people to help clean up Tiverton?

“An excellent way to educate and involve citizens in litter clean-up is by creating an ongoing activity.  Our project is called Adopt an Area in Tiverton." Currently there are about 70 participants who have chosen or been assigned an area in town which they clean up on a regular basis, 12 months a year.  New members are welcome. Also very important is enforcement of the Litter Ordinance and the Solid Waste Management Ordinance, including publicizing violations of these laws. In this regard, the Litter Committee needs to establish an official and ongoing relationship with Chief Blakey and Captain Jones, invite them to the monthly meeting from time to time, and consider appointing a committee member to be the Police Department liaison.”

• What did Tiverton look like in the past compared to how it is currently?

“Years ago, there was no litter. We had no fast food restaurants, no coffee and donut shops, etc. When you wanted something to drink, you needed a glass, which of course you didn’t throw away.  And there were fewer vehicles on the roadways, which is where an amount of litter comes from (tossing things out!) in the current era.”

• Why do you think the Litter Committee is important?

“First of all the Committee is an official body of the town, a subcommittee of the Conservation Commission, and has the authority to speak out when the Litter Ordinance — the law in Tiverton — is violated.  For example, the exterior of residences and businesses, by law, are expected to be free of litter and trash.  The committee can make considerable progress in this issue by reporting violations to police and requesting citations which may eventually lead to municipal court.”

• What is the most interesting thing you have found while picking up trash?

“Money!  The coat pocket that contains the ‘junk’ to be tossed out the car window might also contain a wad of bills."

• Do you think the Litter Committee is working?

“If not for the Litter Committee, there would be no Litter Ordinance, no ongoing effort (inspired, by the way, by the Tiverton Garden Club’s annual April clean-up) to clean up litter in Tiverton 12 months a year.  The Adopt Project considerably enhances this effort, and the RIDOT regularly helps with litter on state roadways.”

• Why do you suppose people litter?

“Thoughtlessness, primarily. Sometimes anger or being rebellious (some data suggest young men in vehicles fit in this category).  If drivers see litter already on the roadside, they decide adding more will not hurt — especially if it’s a wooded area.  And some people really don’t see the litter, don’t realize it’s a major problem. In addition, trash collection — especially if recyclables are overflowing the bin and it’s windy, which it almost always is, is another significant cause of litter.  In general today, at least in our region, it’s a relatively small number of persons who litter.”

• How long have you been picking up the litter in Tiverton?

“Since mid to late 90s.  I was retired from my professional work by then and had time to 'inspect' the roadways, etc.”

• Were you always this “gutsy”?

“Yes. I am the oldest of five children so I learned at an early age to speak up. My father was very gutsy.

— This “gutsy” lady continues to monitor her Adopt area regularly. Pat is persistent with reminding business owners on Main Road to keep their parking lots litter free. She does not hesitate to visit our police station to remind them of the Litter Ordinance. Pat's valuable experience, advice and knowledge are priceless for Tiverton Conservation and Litter Committee members.


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.