Posts Tagged ‘Trash’

The Maryland Push to Ban Styrofoam

February 2nd, 2017
by Laura Cattell Noll, Assistant Program Manager

In the last decade, communities throughout the Potomac River Watershed have taken substantive action to prevent litter, clean up communities and protect the water we drink.  Local jurisdictions in the Washington DC region have been national leaders in disposable bag laws, polystyrene foam bans and innovative social marketing campaigns.

The Maryland General Assembly is looking at the successes of these local jurisdictions and considering a state-wide ban on polystyrene. Commonly known as Styrofoam, polystyrene use poses risks to human health and threatens our drinking water.

Volunteer in yellow jacket carries beach-ball sized chunk of styrofoam away from the river.

A volunteer carries a large block of Styrofoam found on the shore of the Potomac River during a cleanup.

When hot food or beverages are placed in polystyrene food containers, they can leach toxic chemicals directly into our food. Scientists have found that most Americans have residues of these chemicals in their bodies. Because it is lightweight and floats, discarded polystyrene containers are often carried by runoff to storm drains and eventually  end up in local waterways. Over time, the polystyrene breaks into small pieces, but never decomposes. These small pieces absorb chemicals from the water and are readily ingested by fish.

For the last 29 years, the Alice Ferguson Foundation has organized the Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup in collaboration with hundreds of partners throughout the region. Since its inception, more that 150,000 volunteers have removed more than 7 million pounds of trash. Our volunteers have consistently found that polystyrene food containers represent a significant portion of the trash in our communities and waterways.

Together we can make polystyrene a thing of the past! What will you do to help?

  • Call your legislator and tell them you support Senate Bill 186 and House Bill 229.
  • Pledge to go foam free by bringing your own reusable coffee mug.
  • Sign-up to volunteer for clean land, safe water and healthy communities.



2016 in Review: What’s going on in the Trash World?

January 24th, 2017
by Julia Saintz, Community Outreach Coordinator


At the beginning of a new year, we pause to reflect on recent successes of the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative.  This past year was filled with proud moments for environmental educators, litter fanatics, and volunteers in action.

Keeping the conversation going

A little over a decade ago, we launched a multi-jurisdictional, region-wide conversation about the issue of trash with the first ever Trash Summit. As a result, more than 100 officials signed a treaty pledging their commitment to the issue.  Spring 2016 saw the 10th annual trash summit, Transforming Communities, which convened nearly 200 community members and representatives to talk about the issue of trash in the region’s waterways and what can be done about it. In the fall, just a little over a decade after the first Trash Treaty was signed, officials from the District of Columbia, Prince George’s County and Montgomery County came together to renew their commitment with the Anacostia River Accord. 

Officials at table shake hands after signing the Anacostia Accord.


Inspired by our volunteers

Each April, we celebrate Earth Month with an enormous region-wide cleanup effort. In 2016, our team helped organize more than 9,400 volunteers for the Potomac River Watershed Cleanup who removed more than 330,000 pounds of trash at 265 sites! Volunteers from across four states and the District of Columbia came out to clean up their neighborhoods, roads, parks, and waterways. Even after three decades of organizing this event, the passion and community commitment to our environment and waterways continues to inspire.

Group of kids in bright yellow vests roll a discarded tire out of the woods and towards a road.


Youth and leadership

This summer, we also launched the Watershed Leadership Program, which teaches young people about the watershed, the importance of proper waste management and how to lead a successful watershed cleanup. The program engaged youth from the Student Conservation Association and the Green Zone Environmental Program of the Department of Energy and the Environment in the District of Columbia. This program joins initiatives like Trash Free Schools and Trash Free Classrooms in working to engage the next generation and give them the tools to make a green difference in their community.

Three children sit on playground fence holding bright yellow trash bags.


Keep an eye out for more in 2017:

  • In 2016, we continued to refine our litter prevention campaign with brand new social marketing research to help us better reach millennials and Spanish-speakers. What did we find? Messaging focused on healthy communities and drinking water was most effective with those groups. Based on these results, our campaign has been updated and will be unveiled soon!
  • The Alice Ferguson Foundation is excited to partner with Rock Creek Conservancy for a three-year project to create a D.C. Adopt a Stream Program.
  • If you live in DC, you’ll be seeing more of us. This year, our Litter Prevention team will be working in all 8 wards of DC!
  • Keep an eye out for our 11th Annual Trash Summit, coming this autumn.
  • As of January 1, 2017, the District of Columbia joins Prince George’s County in implementing a Foam Ban, requiring food service packaging to be made from recyclable or compostable materials only. This is great news; Styrofoam is one of the most toxic and least degradable plastics out there. Be ready to support upcoming legislation on Foam Bans in other jurisdictions! 


Ready to dive into 2017 with us? Sign up for our mailing list to stay on top upcoming events, cleanups, and happenings.



April 1st kicked off Litter Enforcement Month. No joke!

April 3rd, 2013

Today begins a month-long effort by local police stations, sheriff’s offices, and other agencies to raise awareness about litter, illegal dumping and related crimes. It is our hope that by raising awareness and increasing enforcement efforts, more people will be convinced to change their littering habits. As Litter Enforcement Month gets underway, we encourage you show your solidarity with our partners by taking action. Here’s how:

  1. Choose not to litter and encourage others to do the same.
  2. Join us for our 25th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup on April 6. Find sites here.
  3. Visit our website to read up on your local Litter Enforcement Month and your local Codes.
  4. Call 311 to report illegal dumping and other improperly disposed of trash.
  5. Join the discussion by posting a comment below. How important do you think enforcement is to solving litter in the Potomac?

Litter Enforcement Month also works to highlight the hard work that our partners do to tackle the issue of litter in their communities not just during April, but throughout the year. Even within one jurisdiction there are multiple agencies working on the issue of litter, LEM helps bring them together and highlight how much they do for our region. Whether they are ticketing people for littering, inspecting private properties, or picking up litter along our roadways, these agencies play an important role in helping keep the Potomac trash-free.D6_BusStop_Feet - Copy

This year’s Litter Enforcement Month has attracted a record number of agencies, 15 agencies from 12 jurisdictions. Some participants, such as Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties and the City of Alexandria, have been with us since the beginning is 2008 when we initiated Litter Enforcement Week (expanded to a month-long effort in 2011). Others are joining us for the first time including Fairfax County, the Cities of Manassas and Falls Church, and the WMATA transit police. And for the first time we have non-code enforcement agencies, who will be reporting how much they cleanup during April, including Allegany County, the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center, the City of Alexandria’s Sheriff’s Office, and Prince William County’s Neighborhood Services Division. See the table below for a full list of participants.

We hope that Litter Enforcement Month along with our 25th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup, will help convince people to put their trash where it belongs and to take action in their lives and in their communities.LEM2013_participants

Bridging Schools through Bridging the Watershed

November 20th, 2012

By Zoe Unruh, BTW Educator Specialist  

A few Fridays ago I had a field study with Marshall High School at the National Mall. Every year the International Baccalaureate mathematics teacher from Marshall uses the Bridging the Watershed Talkin’ Trash module to collect and analyze data in a fun and engaging way. In her class, she requires the students to conduct an independent research project, and collecting data on what trash exists on the Mall provides an example of an outer box project idea – even trash can be mathematical! Before data analysis, the Talkin’ Trash module requires the collection of that data, which means that students remove several pounds of trash from the National Park. Equipped with AFF’s bright yellow and blue Potomac River Watershed Cleanup bags, the students scour the shoreline for trash left behind by tides, storms, and recreation enthusiasts.

On this particular Friday, NPS Ranger Robert Steele and I met the students at Hains Point in East Potomac Park early enough that we were sharing the park only with some morning joggers, a few songbirds, and a single bald eagle. As the morning wore on, a large group began to set up at the nearby picnic pavilion, and some high school football players were moving picnic tables and preparing the field next to us for a multitude of field games. As soon as the Marshall students set out with their bags to collect their data, I walked over to our new neighbors to find out what was going on. As much as I love running mathematical analyses of trash collection, I’m a realist. I knew that I would not be able to compete with kickball, football, hot dogs, and a DJ in the fight for students’ attention. It turned out that Archbishop Carroll, a Catholic High School in the District, was in the midst of its annual walkathon, and the finish line just so happened to be right next to our study site.

As the smell of the barbecue became stronger, I started to curse my luck as a new educator. Why did I choose Hains Point as a study site on the ONE DAY when an entire high school would be there having a party? And then three students from Archbishop Carroll approached me. They were in charge of the service club at school, and were very interested in getting involved in trash removal. They had seen the Marshall students collecting trash with their brightly colored bags, and immediately knew what they were doing. I explained the program, and how their math teacher brought them to the Mall to run an experiment. One of the students exclaimed, “Wait, so you mean they’re here for math class? Why can’t my teacher do that!!” I suddenly felt extremely cool. These students were jealous of the Marshall students in the BTW program, even amidst the Top 40 tunes blaring from the speakers and the endless amounts of chips and soda pop! I gave the students information about the Alice Ferguson Foundation, highlighting the Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup and urging them to get involved. Maybe they’ll host a site near their school in the spring. Or maybe they’ll mention BTW to their teachers. Either way, those bright yellow bags caught their attention and provided a link between the two seemingly separate events.

As BTW educators, we are always conducting field studies in public settings. How many other passersby have we impacted?