From Butterflies to Talking Trash

By Clara Elias, Program Associate, Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative

I made my move to the Alice Ferguson Foundation this last March from the world of butterfly conservation where I spent much of my time in grasslands surveying tiny blue butterflies. These grasslands were often in disturbed areas, along roads and railways tracks – areas that are havens for grassland-loving plants and animals whose habitats are fast disappearing. As you can imagine these areas are also full of trash: plastic bags strangling the vegetation, cigarette butts leaching nicotine, car batteries leaking into the soil. It is disgusting. It breaks my heart to know these habitats are threatened not only by large forces, such as development and changing climates, but by litter carelessly dropped along the roads.

Though littering is a personal choice its effects are global. I have seen how litter has negatively impacted butterfly ecosystems in California and Oregon, and since moving to the DC area, I have seen the trash that plagues the Potomac Watershed. The problem has a simple solution that is difficult to achieve: convince people to dispose of their trash responsibly. To be successful we need to work holistically to get the institutions, infrastructure and policies in place to see a lasting reduction in litter. The Trash Summit is where many of these solutions begin, which is why I am so excited about participating in this year’s event.

What makes the Trash Summit so crucial is that it engages stakeholders, allowing them to learn, be heard, share expertise, and contribute to the solution. Anyone who calls the Potomac home has a stake in its future, which is why we work to bring together elected officials, government agencies, businesses, non-profits, youth and concerned citizens every fall during the Trash Summit. Our sessions not only have knowledgeable speakers to learn from, but include lengthy discussions geared towards developing a plan for how to apply what is learned to the Potomac Watershed.

I am especially excited for the keynote address by Jean-Michel Cousteau, ocean explorer and environmentalist, who will be connecting our local problems to a global issue that threatens our oceans’ health. It is important to recognize that, while the Trash Summit works to address this problem regionally, our local efforts are a part of the global solution for marine debris. I also can’t wait for the session, titled “Compost: Protecting our Watershed,” which looks at how compost can be used to manage stormwater and prevent erosion, protecting the region’s water while building healthy soils. It is these types of solutions, which help solve the trash problem while protecting our environment and building local economy, that are essential for creating a bright future for the Potomac.

To tackle the issue of trash, we not only need our region’s leaders and the people working on policy and regulation, but people, such as yourself, with on-the-ground knowledge of what the issues really are and what solutions hold the most promise. I hope you will consider joining me on November 7th at the Silver Spring Civic Building to dialogue and begin making plans for how to create a trash free Potomac Watershed.

Visit the 7th annual Potomac Watershed Trash Summit’s homepage for more information or to register.