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.

Microfibers on the Menu: I’ll Have the Rockfish, Hold the Plastic

April 17th, 2017
by Hannah Seligmann, Volunteer Coordinator

Tiny pieces of plastic are washing off our clothing and heading straight for the ocean with every load of laundry. Here are 10 things you need to know (spoiler alert, there’s a solution that you can easily be a part of!):

  1. Microfibers exist. Microfibers are small plastic particles within the category of microplastics.(1They are less than 5 millimeters long and can be as small as 3 microns (or one millionth of a meter). For reference, consider that human hair is 50-100 microns and a red blood cell is 6-10 microns.(2)
  2. Microfibers exist in our clothing (think synthetic material like polyester, nylon, spandex). Researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara found that, on average, synthetic fleece jackets release 1.7 grams of microfibers each wash. Similarly, the Plastic Soup Foundation found that more than 4,500 fibers can be released per gram of clothing per wash.(5)
  3. Microfibers absorb chemicals. Even though microfibers are tiny, they are big enough to absorb persistent organic pollutants (POP’s) like DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) and PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl). POP’s are toxic chemicals that are harmful to human health and the environment.(3)
  4. Microfibers travel. When something is washed in the washing machine, the water used in each cycle goes to a wastewater treatment plant where it is cleaned, treated, and then released directly into the local river or stream. These plants are not equipped to catch 100% of microfibers and due to the high cost of updating these systems; this is not a reliable immediate solution to the problem.
  5. Microfibers affect marine life. Aquatic organisms are consuming microfibers directly and indirectly.(1) Research reveals that two common results of marine life ingesting plastic are death by starvation and reproductive complications.
  6. Microfibers may impact human health. There is a lot to learn about microfiber impacts, but what we have learned is 67% of all species tested from fish markets in California had microfiber in them.(2) Generally, when fish eat plastic it ends up in the gut. Although we do not typically eat the gut, there is concern as to the potential for absorbed chemicals (remember those POP’s?) to transfer to the muscle tissues and parts we do eat. For shellfish, we eat the entire creature, so yes, we are eating plastic.
  7. People are talking about microfibers. Patagonia recently completed a study called “Microfiber Pollution and the Apparel Industry” to better understand the apparel industry’s contribution to microfiber pollution and how it can be managed.(4) Martha Stewart just highlighted the solution we’re about to tell you about.(6)
  8. They are everywhere. Microfibers have been found in freshwater, the Great Lakes, soil, the atmosphere, and the ocean. Global water samplings declare that microfibers are in found in all aquatic environments.(1, 7)
  9. A solution exist. The Cora Ball is the world’s first microfiber-catching laundry ball. This is a human-scale, consumer solution that you can easily be a part of! You simply toss the Cora Ball into the washing machine and do your wash as usual. After the wash, you’ll see clumps of fuzz collected in your Cora Ball. Pull these out (similar to hair in a brush) and toss into the trash. Bonus! Cora collects animal hair too! The Cora Ball design was inspired by nature, specifically coral, with the intention of catching tiny things while allowing water to flow. The material is made from 100% recycled plastic in the USA and catches up to 35% of the microfibers per load, per Cora Ball. Early test results indicate that if 10% of US households used a Cora Ball, we could keep the plastic equivalent of over 30 million water bottles out of our oceans, lakes and rivers every year.(2)
  10. Organizations are taking action. The Rozalia Project works for a clean, protected, and thriving ocean through education, cleanups, research, and technology. The Cora Ball was invented through marine debris expeditions on the East Coast aboard the American Promise, the Rozalia Project’s oceanographic research vessel. American Promise was designed by Ted Hood, made famous by Dodge Morgan’s solo round the world voyage, and then used as an offshore sail training vessel for the United States Naval Academy.  

Take action for microfiber pollution; check out the Cora Ball kickstarter campaign.

Did you know that rivers are the primary carrier of plastics to the ocean? One of AFF’s Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative programs works on cleaning up litter (and preventing it!). Be a part of our Potomac Cleanup for “last chance capture” of other types of plastic entering our waters.

 

Pursuing The Usual Suspects: A Cleanup Story

April 5th, 2017
by Hannah Seligmann, Volunteer Coordinator

 

Those who have participated in a cleanup understand that while the items found span the whole spectrum, they’re usually all made from a few consistent materials. From straws to plastic bags, random toys to little bits of Styrofoam and food wrappers, the majority of products are plastic and single use items. Cleanups offer experiential learning opportunities that can raise awareness and change behavior.

“This has been an eye opening experience…” said Khara Norris, a cleanup volunteer. “We are finding a lot of Styrofoam. I am never buying Styrofoam again.” 

One volunteer who knows all too well these cleanup materials has been participating in the Potomac Cleanup for more than a decade:

While hiking and enjoying the Potomac shoreline, experienced cleanup volunteer Lyle has closely observed, documented, and photographed the seemingly never-ending and wide variety of trash that washes ashore. He has dubbed several categories of trash as “the Usual Suspects,” as they are found on every outing. These include tennis balls (Lyle has picked up several thousand), disposal lighters, flip flops and shoes of every type, pens, plastic lids, straws, and emergency road flares.

Lyle and Dave at Chapman Forest

 

When he led last year’s cleanup event, it was a volunteer trifecta! Eric Celarier, a local artist, joined the efforts in search for trash for their latest piece. Lyle led Eric to the trash hot spots and even donated his distinguished collection to the project. David Howe, another volunteer, and his crew from the Institute of Maritime History, provided 3 boats to help haul trash from the shoreline to the collection site (a huge help!). The boats also provided transit to additional access points. One of the biggest finds was an eight-foot-long picnic table that washed ashore and has since been refinished and reused.

On April 8, and throughout the rest of the month, volunteers will once again unite for the 29th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup. Last year, nearly 10,000 volunteers came out and removed more than 300,000 pounds of trash from the watershed. What will they find this year?

Visit PotomacCleanup.org to find a cleanup site near you, or to host your own.

 

What’s Your Cleanup Story?

March 29th, 2017
by Hannah Seligmann, Volunteer Coordinator

 
I am humbled by the dedication of the people who protect, volunteer for, and preserve the water we drink. Since 1989, the Potomac River Watershed Cleanup has mobilized thousands of volunteers to be part of the solution for clean water.

Here are a few of their stories:

4) Jim Heins
Each year, Jim Heins leads eight cleanup sites along the C&O Canal and connects with thousands of local people interested in participating. Many of the volunteers come back year after year – and some even become site leaders for their own cleanups!  At the end of the day, Jim and another volunteer, Skip Magee, go around to each site and sort through the blue recycling bags to ensure the county receives only the material that can be recycled.

PathToGreatness
Though new to organizing cleanups, Michelle Haywood and the team at Path to Greatness, are skilled at connecting with community members. Last year, they arranged for nearly 50 volunteers to remove more than 300 pounds of trash at Oxon Cove National Park. This is just a snapshot of the year-round cleanups at Oxon Cove Park (every first Sunday of the month!).

5) Friends of Accotink Creek
The Friends of Accoktink Creek
are incredible stewards of their local creek. They lead dozens of cleanup sites during the month of April, engaging hundreds of neighbors to get their “brains wet and hands dirty”. Stay tuned to learn about their upcoming Trash Day of Action: Battle of the Bottle!

 

To live your own cleanup reality, visit PotomacCleanup.org. Last year 9,465 volunteers removed more than 300,000 pounds of trash from the watershed. Can we count on you this year?

  • VOLUNTEER by picking up trash! Choose from hundreds of events listed on our website.
  • LEAD a cleanup in your community! Register online and invite friends, family, and coworkers. We will provide you with supplies and logistics.

The 29th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup is April 8, 2017. This regional event for clean land, safe waters, and healthy lives will continue throughout the entire month of April. 

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.

 

 

Teacher Institute and Trainings of Summer 2016

September 13th, 2016

Teacher Institute and Trainings 2016
This summer 70 teachers from across the region received environmental education training from the Alice Ferguson Foundation education team in a variety of exciting locations, everywhere from the grounds of the Jefferson Memorial to a pontoon boat on Jug Bay to our very own working farm on the shore of the Potomac River. For many of our teachers turned students, these were opportunities to move from their comfort zone to their “challenge zone”, learning new ways to teach hands on science.

During our two week Teacher Institute with Prince George’s County teachers, staff from across AFF came to speak to our teachers on all of the exciting ways they could bring environmental concepts to life in the classroom. Julia Saintz from our Trash Initiative spoke to the teachers about creating Trash Free Schools and Trash Free Classrooms. Staff from the education team demonstrated multiple ways to teach watershed concepts, first using simple classroom tools and eventually moving outside to teach concepts that could easily be covered on a school’s parking lot or playground. Local experts gave tours of recycling, compost, and waste water treatment facilities that affect the daily lives of these teachers and the students they teach. Farm staff shared their expertise about gardening, soils and other topics that could be shared in the school setting. By the end of the Institute, the teachers became experts in field work, doing water quality testing and making assessments that they could do with their students.

Teachers who were nervous about being outdoors started with hands-on learning of simple lesson plans that could be used in the schoolyard, and over the course of two weeks were empowered to touch benthic macro invertebrates (creek critters), observe wild osprey, as well as kayak and canoe on the river. It was an exciting transformation for the teachers and for the staff who had the privilege of working with them.

With the Bridging the Watershed Teacher Trainings, local teachers met at National Parks to participate in student modules to learn to assess water quality through chemical testing, macro invertebrate sampling, invasive plant identification, and trash studies. They learned about the detrimental effects of human impacts, including marine debris and polluted runoff on drinking water and marine species. Teachers learned ways to bring these studies back to the classroom curriculum and prepare their students for outdoor learning experiences.

The most important part of all AFF education programs is to empower students with ways to have positive human impact on the environment. AFF hopes to model effective teaching on environmental issues by approaching people in their comfort zone and challenging them to learn more, teach more, and get more hands on.

One of our teachers wrote after the institute, “Our knowledge of how we are impacting our planet, and ways to apply science to solve and investigate real world issues was increased tremendously. . . My experience at Hard Bargain Farm was truly special and will inform my instruction and attitude for the years to come.”