4 Quotes for Environmental Educators to Live By

July 25th, 2018

By: Christina Morgal, Communications Intern

Did you know that every year we help local teachers bring the wonder of the outdoors into their classrooms? Our summer workshops bring teachers out to their local parks to prepare for and experience the Bridging The Watershed activities their students will do in the upcoming school year. After taking this summer training, teachers are confident and ready to dive into the hands-on science learning activities with their classes, both inside and outside the classroom.

Recently, I shadowed a group of teachers from Charles County Public Schools as they explored renewable energy, litter prevention, and sustainability activities with our Bridging The Watershed educators.

 

As we learned about pollution in local waterways, I overheard these four awesome quotes:

 “Small changes lead to bigger changes.”

Sustainability will not be achieved in a day. But, if everyone makes one change in their own lives, then we would all make a big stride to save our waterways!

Program educators highlighted the ways we help each class do an action plan or project they can implement in their own lives or schools based on what they learn during their experience with us. These actions often include small changes students can make in their daily lives, such as getting a recycling bin for their home or asking their parents to use reusable shopping bags. An action plan can also include writing a letter to their principal about how they could be a “greener” school.

Small changes like these definitely add up.

“You’re not the one that caused it, but you can be the one to change it.”

The environment is not picky about who helps protect it! Although you may not have been the person to throw trash in the river, you can choose to join the fight against pollution and take action by volunteering for cleanups, educating others about sustainability, or implementing changes in your workplace, school, or home.

 

 

“We don’t see what we don’t look for.”

Have you ever looked at a plastic straw and thought about it might end up once you throw it away? Turns out, plastic straws can’t be recycled or composted, so they often end up in landfills, waterways, and communities…and are one of the top ten items found during cleanups!

During the day’s pollution cleanup activity, we collected more than thirteen bags of trash from the Potomac River shoreline in just 45 minutes, which included more than 250 plastic straws. Once you see how these everyday items end up as litter, it’s hard to walk anywhere without spotting that discarded plastic straw, bottle cap, food container, or empty bottle.

 

“Buy green and reduce, reuse, and recycle.”

This old adage still rings true! The three R’s mantra continues to be one of the easiest sustainability practices to implement, with three small changes that anyone can make in their daily lives:

  • Reduce the amount of waste that we produce
  • Reuse items in creative ways
  • Recycle items that can be harmful to our environment

After spending just one day with this great group of teachers, I know that the lessons they’ve learned today will go back with them to the classroom and help inspire the next generation of environmental champions. Here’s to these four overheard and unassuming ideas can help change the world for the better.

Never Too Young To Make a Difference: 5th Graders Divert School Waste from Landfills

July 10th, 2018

Students from CCPCS participate in the Trash Timeline activity, which explores decomposition rates of different materials.

This past school year, hundreds of students from around the region participated in the Trash Free Schools program. Students learned about waste production, the impacts of litter on the environment and took action to clean up their communities and waterways.

Through a Community Stormwater Solutions grant from the District Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE), Alice Ferguson Foundation staff worked with Capital City Public Charter School (CCPCS) to engage 80 fifth graders in creative student-led action projects to prevent litter, clean up waterways, and ensure healthy communities in the District. 

During a program led by Alice Ferguson Foundation staff, students explored decomposition rates of commonly littered items by creating a visual timeline. Student also conducted a waste audit in their cafeteria to learn about the kinds of trash produced at the school.

Results from cafeteria waste audit at Capital City Public Charter School. These results informed student-led action projects.

Two field trips, first to Hard Bargain Farm and then to the Fort Totten Transfer Station, supplemented the student’s learning by highlighting what happens to trash, recycling and composting after they leave our schools and homes.

Alice Ferguson Foundation staff met with students to brainstorm and discuss potential action projects and provide feedback on detailed project proposals. Students decided to launch an expanded trash disposal station, which would allow them to expand recycling, expand composting and create a table for unwanted and untouched food for sharing. Students designed the disposal station, created signs to explain proper sorting and volunteered to stand by the sorting station to help students properly dispose of their lunch waste.

Thanks to the students hard work, the station was launched in mid-May and has already helped to divert more than 100 pounds of compost and recycling from the landfill!

If you’re interested in joining the Trash Free Schools program, email us at [email protected] or call (301)292-5665.

Sharing Green Energy

January 24th, 2018

Sharing Green Energy

Did you know that just down the hill from the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s historic home and office, the Foundation’s educational center is one of the greenest buildings in the world? As of this year, our community remains just one of just 15 places in the world to have a Living Building helping to power their neighborhood. 

The Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Environmental Education Center at the Alice Ferguson Foundation is just one of seven such buildings on the East Coast.

 

One of the most obvious “green” elements of our building is visible almost as soon as you turn into the campus. The environmental center’s roof is covered with solar panels. This past year, these panels, along with our geothermal wells and thick insulation, combined to generate 25% more electricity than we used. This excess energy, generated from the sun, and enhanced and made more efficient through our geothermal system, was sent back into the grid.

 

We’ve invested more than a decade in understanding, exploring and now reaping the benefits of an investment in green buildings and technology.

Learn more about the building here.

 

Celebrating the Year of the Anacostia

January 17th, 2018
By Laura Cattell Noll, Program Manager, Trash Free Initiative

 

In the 60 years since our founding, we have seen firsthand the importance of the Anacostia River and, in particular, the educational, cultural, recreational and economic resources the waterfront offers to District residents. Earlier this month, the DC Mayor declared 2018 as the Year of the Anacostia to pay tribute to this incredible local resource.

Here are just a few reasons we’re so excited to celebrate the Year of the Anacostia:

The Anacostia waterfront provides District residents with unparalleled access to public lands in their own community. These riverfront public lands are on par with some of the best publicly accessible waterfronts in the world, including San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and Chicago’s lakefront parks. Since the 1970s, we have worked closely with the National Park Service, including Anacostia Park to encourage students and community members to visit our national public lands and discover nature in their own back yard. Green spaces are important to our communities and they bring real value to our lives.


The Anacostia river and waterfront provide an incredible opportunity for environmental and watershed education.
Learning is both more meaningful and more relevant when it happens in a student’s community. This year is also the 20th anniversary of our educational program, Bridging the Watershed, which brings more than 6,000 students per year out to their local parks. Through this program, hundreds of students visit Anacostia riverfront parks to engage in inquiry-based scientific field studies. The transformative experiences during these hands-on learning programs inspire our youth to utilize their local resources and engage with the environment in meaningful ways.

The Anacostia waterfront inspires community-based watershed stewardship.

As an important tributary of the Potomac River, the Anacostia watershed has long-been a focus of the Annual Potomac Watershed Cleanup. Last year, more than 9,000 volunteers, removed more than 400,000 pounds of trash from the watershed. During our 30th cleanup later this April, volunteers will come together to host dozens of cleanup sites across the Anacostia River Watershed. We continue to be inspired by the unprecedented collaboration within the Anacostia watershed that includes thousands of volunteers and a diverse coalition of government, non-profit, business and community partners.

We are excited to celebrate, enjoy and honor the history of the Anacostia River and surrounding communities this year, and in the years to come.

Learn more about the Year of the Anacostia here.

Green Your Holiday Gift-Wrapping

December 16th, 2017

 

In the United States, more trash is produced between Thanksgiving and the New Year than any other time of year. And a lot of the Holiday trash that we throw out does not break down quickly.

While regular paper takes  2 to 4 weeks to decompose, modern wrapping paper is usually made with foil and coated with plastic film, making it slow to break down and difficult to recycle. Plastic itself never decomposes.

But this year, we can all do our small part to green our holidays gift-wrapping and gift-giving:

  1. Use the gift bags or wrapping paper you’ve saved from last year’s gifts for this year’s colorful (and green) present wrapping. The smaller scraps and pieces can be used as holiday tags or cut into small pieces to decorate the gift.
  2. Have a newspaper lying around, or some old books you’ve been meaning to throw away? Paper can be great for wrapping, especially if you include a holiday-themed passage or story!
  3. Give a gift within a gift: items can be wrapped in a scarf, sweater, sock, or a brightly patterned reusable shopping bag.
  4. Surprise your friends and family with a switcharoo. Use the box from a product you’ve bought previously, and put your present inside. Imagine the surprise when your friend receives a box of goldfish crackers, only to find the book they’ve been wishing for inside!
  5. Baskets, buckets, and other containers make for fun holiday gift boxes – and they definitely stand out in the pile.

This year, express your creativity! Share your green holiday ideas with us on twitter by tagging us at @AliceFerguson.

 

 

 

Innovation & Collaboration at this Year’s Trash Summit

December 12th, 2017
Guest post by Lowell George, National River Cleanup Manager at American Rivers

 

At the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s 11th Annual Trash Summit more than 200 people – including high school students, nonprofit staff, concerned citizens, business leaders, and elected officials – brought with them their own passion for clean spaces and waterways and ideas for how to solve the persistent pollution problem that affects our nation. While solutions ranged from finding alternatives to balloon releases at weddings to District-wide bag taxes, they were all united by what Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Benjamin Grumbles called “the power of innovation and triumph of collaboration.”

Power of Innovation

While many would argue that innovations over the past 100 years, especially those related to single-use plastic products, are a large cause of the littler problem we face today, innovation is also one of the most promising solutions moving forward. During the keynote address and a panel discussion at the Trash Summit, speakers from the Rozalia Project, Prince George’s County Department of the Environment, Clean Virginia Waterways, and MGM National Harbor highlighted steps their groups are taking to keep up with pollution prevention and mitigation:

  • The Rozalia Project, a nonprofit working to clean and protect our ocean, developed a product individuals can use in their daily lives to stop microfibers from ever getting out of our washing machines and reaching our seas.
  • Prince George’s County is setting up wildlife cameras throughout the region to monitor illegal dumping while also tracking litter via the PGCLitterTRAK app to help develop accurate maps of the litter collected.
  • Clean Virginia Waterways is helping change behavior at restaurants and weddings by providing paper (instead of plastic) straws to eating establishments and by showing engaged couples alternatives to balloon release send-offs.
  • MGM is taking on sustainable initiatives in their operations, including a 700-gallon cistern that stores rain water to be used in back-of-house toilets and an oyster shell recycling program connected to their restaurant.
 

While these products and initiatives vary in size and scope, they all serve as easy alternatives to current norms and educate the public on the dangers of current behaviors. By stopping litter at the source and reacting quickly to new pollution threats, these innovations are efficiently and effectively creating long-term impacts.

Triumph of Collaboration

Innovation does seem like a strong option for overcoming the obstacles posed by litter, but innovating in a silo won’t be nearly as effective, as was demonstrated during the Trash Summit. Throughout the day, discussions came back to the theme of the power of partnerships and the essential role collaboration – between nonprofits, private companies, and government agencies – plays in the problem solving process. While it can be easy to see why working together around a common problem would lead to a stronger cure quicker, it can be more challenging to identify the pivotal role competition plays in this issue.

Throughout the Summit, political leaders, including DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III, were talking trash with one another – and not just sharing their ways to solve their respective pollution problems. Each region’s representative touched on the ongoing competition between one another to be the most environmentally friendly and proactive, referencing plastic bag taxes, Styrofoam bans, and fights for bottle return bills in their cases. While competition in other areas of government or between states can lead to inefficiency and the ineffective use of resources, this friendly battle seems to be benefiting all involved. Each governing body is able to see what initiatives or programs the others are launching and replicate or adapt them to fit their jurisdiction’s needs. By having such a concentration of environmentally-focused decision-makers in a relatively small but populous area, the DC metro region is able to compete, collaborate, and evolve together for a greater impact and triumph for all.

   

According to Katie Register from Clean Virginia Waterways, “regulation, innovation, and education” are how changes are made in today’s society. The presenters and other panelists at the Trash Summit reinforced this takeaway by demonstrating the top-down and bottom-up forces driving change in their work in the DMV and across the country. While education may be the best long-term solution for preventing litter and pollution, nonprofits, companies, and government agencies are turning to incentives and innovations to solve the problems trash is creating for our communities now. Individuals, companies, and local governments are working together and pushing each other toward a more sustainable future.

While there is still much progress to be made in creating a trash free system of waterways and natural spaces, the Trash Summit made clear that there are already victories to celebrate in the powerful partnerships that have been forged and the innovations developed that will continue to shape our future and push us to a cleaner planet.

Word on the Street and Steams is…

August 21st, 2017
by Hannah Seligmann, Volunteer Coordinator

Since 1989, Potomac Cleanup volunteers have been leading the way to a healthier river. This year, nearly 10,000 volunteers took to the outdoors, organized, picked up trash, and recorded and submitted important data about what they found. We wanted to highlight some of the most interesting finds and best quotes from the 29th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup.

The Potomac Cleanup is often led by returning volunteers. For the folks in the Pohick Creek watershed, the Cleanup is something of a tradition. They’ve been participating in the event for more than a decade!

“Every year our [cleanup] site gets better and better!”
– Pohick Creek Cleanup, Mount Vernon District

For some, this April was their first cleanup. HGA Architects and Engineers can see the Potomac River from their office, along with the trash that’s accumulating.

“I’ve been dreaming about this [cleanup] ever since we first saw the trash.”
– Ethan Fogle

Ethan went above and beyond and purchased a pool net to be able to capture the trash that was out of reach in the water. It was a huge success! Add a pool net to your tips and tricks for on the water cleanups!

If you read our recent blog, Usual Suspects, you know there is no limit to what volunteers might find. Some of our most interesting finds this year were: a glass pepsi bottle from 1950, a grill, wake board, coffee maker, soccer cleats, rusted out antique washing machine, wallet (turned in), plastic Easter eggs, violin case, beautiful hand knit Nordic sweater, a vacuum. Did we mention the plastic hippo?

Aside from the fun in the interesting finds, volunteers keep track of the plastic bags they find and sort between trash and recycling.

“We observed a decrease in bottle and can litter this year, but a dramatic increase in plastic waste, particularly plastic sacs from retailers.  We’re all in favor of banning these plastic sacs.”
– Tripps Run cleanup with the Sleepy Hollow Citizens Association

“Almost everything we picked up was a plastic of some type.  Few grocery store ones – mostly newspaper bags, produce bags, packaging material and a surprising amount of caution tape.”
– Little Falls Stream Valley Park, upper section

During April, we did an intensive cleanup and sorting project with North Point High School and explorer and environmentalist John Cousteau. In 20 minutes, we found and properly disposed of 78 food wrappers, 2 cans, 27 bottle caps, 7 plastic Easter eggs, 2 batteries, 6 plastic bottles, 4 plastic lids, 1 glass beer bottle, 1 blanket, 2 plastic utensils, 1 random small metal piece, 13 straws. Piece by piece, litter adds up.

 

“The 2017 in 2017 challenge was a success! We wanted to collect 2,017 water bottles for 2017 and we exceeded this goal.” 
– Senior Green Team Cleanup
at John E. Howard Community Center

We were inspired by the enthusiasm of the volunteers at the Greenbelt Earth Day Watershed Cleanup who said, “It’s like saving the world”, “This is the best day ever!” and “Small individual actions lead to big community impacts.”

And the volunteers were not afraid to dream big:

“Thirty years from now, we will probably say ‘Remember when people used to use plastic?’”
– Jefferson County, WV

The benefits of the Potomac Cleanup go beyond the ecological improvements.

“Loved getting outside and working with neighbors to help clean the community.”
– Little Hunting Creek Cleanup

“Visitors to the Canal thanked the volunteers for what they were doing as they came in contact with us.”
– Lock 27, Mouth of the Monocacy

And we hope to continue to see comments like the one from Piscataway Hills, “Our site gets cleaner each year.  There were significantly fewer tires.  In the past we filled a pickup truck with tires.”

So join us next year. Save the date for April 14, 2018 for the 30th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup!

 

Upcoming 2017 Shows and Concerts

July 3rd, 2017

We are well into our summer theater and concert season – don’t miss out! Scroll down for a listing of upcoming concerts, events, and plays:

July 15: Concert in the Woods: Blues Night
Don’t miss this special evening of red hot blues music with three of the most respected blues masters in the Mid Atlantic region: Linwood Lee Taylor, bassist Steve Wolf and drummer extraordinaire Joe Wells.

August 4-19: Theater in the Woods: Equivocation
William Shakespeare finds himself between a powder keg and the crown in this brilliant play by Bill Cain, directed by Craig Hower. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.

August 13: Yoga in the Woods: Yoga & Wine
Join us for this all-level Yoga class in a beautiful outdoor amphitheater for an evening of community, yoga, and wine led by Yoga instructor Sean Fraser!

August 26: Concert in the Woods: 8 Ohms
Join us for an evening concert featuring the reggae funk sound of the 8 Ohms. Preview the sound and voice of the 8 Ohms at 8ohmsband.com.

Sept. 23: Concert in the Woods: Lynn Hollyfield
Join us at for a concert of beautiful music with Lynn Hollyfield, Steve Wolf (bass), Dave Abe (violins, mandolin, pennywhistle) and Jimmy Brink (percussion) with special guest, Keely Hollyfield (harmony vocals).

Sept. 8-17: Theater in the Woods: Bambi
A stage version of Austrian novelist Felix Salten’s Bambi, originally written in the 1920s. Bambi: A Life in the Woods is an eloquent and haunting tale of growing up that will appeal to children and adults alike. Performances are Fridays at 8:00pm; Saturdays & Sundays at 3:00pm.

Sept. 24: Paint in the Woods: Wine & Design
Join us at our theater in the woods to unleash your inner artist in a fun and social environment. Meet neighbors, make new friends, and create a piece of art under the guidance of artist Vicki Marckel. We provide everything, just sign up, show up, and paint!

Oct. 6-21: Theater in the Woods: The Weir
Written by Conor McPherson and directed by Brooke L. Howells, The Weir is a haunting play with its roots in Irish folklore that examines chances of missed opportunity and the loneliness that results. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm.

Oct. 28: The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Midnight showing! Grab your fishnets, and jump to the Hard Bargain Amphitheater’s feature presentation of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW! Coming this October, TIME WARP back to the 1970s and shimmy the night away to the voices of Magenta, Frank N Furter & Riff Raff.

5 Local Schools That Are Making A Difference

June 22nd, 2017
by Julia Saintz, Community Outreach Coordinator

Throughout the 2016-2017 school year, we conducted a number of waste reduction, litter prevention and school yard cleanup projects in Prince George’s County, MD and Washington, D.C. through our Trash Free Schools program. Check out a few highlights below!

Phyllis E. Williams Elementary School in Prince George’s County, MD has posted the Regional Litter Prevention Campaign in English and Spanish at the entrance of their school.


Fourth graders from Washington International School
in Washington, D.C. did a Cleanup on the National Mall.  One student even rescued a turtle that was caught in rope!


Anne Beers Elementary School
in Washington, D.C. had a school yard cleanup and removed a whole bag of trash from their schoolyard!  Below you can see us playing an observation game to wrap up the cleanup.


Parkside Middle School
in Washington D.C. painted litter cans that will be adopted at the school and in the Parkside Community to reduce litter.

 


Capital City Public Charter School
fifth graders in Washington, D.C. spent the school year brainstorming and planning action projects to make their school more trash free.  In the end, they presented the actions to their school administration and maintenance staff!


Are you inspired?  Reach out to us to plan an event for next school year at your school. Let’s partner on student-led action projects, Adopt a Litter Can painting, a school yard cleanup, in-classroom presentations, and more!

 

 

Photo Essay: 29th Potomac River Watershed Cleanup

May 14th, 2017

In April 2017, thousands of volunteers across the region came out to help clean up their neighborhoods, parks, and waterways. It’s impossible to truly capture the spirit and energy of this annual event, but we gave it a go with these 28 photos…Click to scroll through the images.