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

April 17th, 2017

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

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.”

Virginia Student from St. Stephens and St. Agnes High School Studies at HBF

June 23rd, 2016

Interning at AFF
By Camryn Collette

Teresa in the children's garden. Photo by Camryn ColletteFor my high school senior project, I volunteered 21 hours with the Alice Ferguson Foundation in Accokeek, Maryland. For our senior projects, we each proposed one question through a social justice lens that we would then attempt to answer. My question was, “How can I help to work towards more natural, peaceful, and greener ways for humans to live, while taking in consideration all forms of life?” I worked with Hannah Seligmann, Volunteer Maryland Coordinator for AFF’s Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative, as well as, AFF’s Hard Bargain Farm educators. The facilities and land they have are beautiful; especially their newest building that is currently in the process of being certified as a Living Building, which is like nothing I have ever seen before. My favorite part of the Living Building was the solar panel roof and front deck made out of recycled plastic. One thing that makes AFF special is the amount of passion and enthusiasm the staff has. As Hannah says, they are a “small but mighty crew,” and she is absolutely right.

One of the many important things they do at AFF is educate younger kids from D.C., PG County, and other places in the metropolitan region about environmental issues, and how to make a difference towards saving the Earth in everyday life. Since the majority of these students live in the city, this program often connects them to nature for the first time. While I was on the farm, I learned lots of cool and useful facts and ways I can help work towards a more natural, peaceful, greener life for humans to live, and I am excited to share this knowledge with others. One of the many things I learned on the farm is how huge of a positive impact humans can make on the environment just by doing simple things, such as sorting trash from recyclables and picking up trash or recycling that has been littered.

Living Building at Hard Bargain Farm.  Photo by Camryn Collette

 

What can I do about the Foam Ban?

June 7th, 2016

Tim Murphy Coordinator, Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative

A major step was taken this year by the District of Columbia and neighboring jurisdictions, Prince George’s County and Montgomery County to ban the use of Styrofoam (Polystyrene) products for businesses that serve food or beverages. The intent is to move consumer usage toward products that are less harmful on the environment. Due to its lightweight nature, foam can be easily blown and washed into local waterways. It is made in such a way that it does not decompose, but breaks apart into small pieces so that it looks like food to the fish and animals that live in and around the water. This then becomes an ingested toxin and has harmful effects on the animal.

There will be a period of time over which the ban will take full effect. Although the responsibility of discontinuing foam products rests on the businesses in the food industry, there are a number of things consumers can do to help get rid of the foam from the environment. Just think of the 4 R’s

Reduce – If you patronize a business continuing to use foam, make the owners aware of the ban. The Department of Energy and Environment seeks to educate and assist with compliance rather than fine businesses for first offenses. See doee.dc.gov/foam for information on compliance and vendors of acceptable alternative products.

Reuse – Although you should make the best efforts to not use foam in the first place, it can find its way into your home as part of shipping or packaging. Rather than throw it away and take up that precious landfill space (remember, foam doesn’t biodegrade like other products will) there are decorative or functional uses for the stuff. I read an interesting post on recyclenation.com that can give you a few ideas.

Rethink- It is becoming more and more popular to carry a reusable drink container with you that you can fill up without using a supplied foam product. If you know you are going to be purchasing food, why not carry your own reusable service items with you. Stick them in your reusable bag and wash them when you get home.

Recycle – Most local waste haulers will not accept Styrofoam due to the cost involved in hauling a high volume lightweight material. It is also less expensive for manufacturers to make new Styrofoam than recycle it. There are, however, local companies that accept clean dry Styrofoam for recycling (EPI Industry Alliance www.epspackaging.org and selected locations of Mom’s Organic Market)  and local shipping companies may accept it to reuse.

It make take a little extra effort on our part, but each step we take brings us closer to sustainable waterways that are safe for drinking, swimming and fishing.

New Litter Prevention Research for the District of Columbia

June 7th, 2016

For over 5 years, The Alice Ferguson Foundation has been addressing the trash problem through The Regional Litter Campaign. Items such as banners, posters and yard signs evoke messages intended to actualize the impact of littering behaviors. Relevant messages include “Your Litter Hits Close to Home” and “Take Control, Take Care of your Trash”. Studying the effectiveness of the campaign through behavior observation and focus groups has given us insight into why people litter and how to promote positive behaviors.

We partnered with the research firm, Opinion Works, to look at selected groups in order to find ways to resonate with Litterers in wards 5-8 in D.C. In our most recent study, the target audiences were millennials (who are in the age demographic most likely to litter) and Spanish Speaking audiences, to determine the effectiveness of the Spanish Litter Prevention Campaign materials recently developed. Some of the findings were:

  1. Litter can be relative and situational depending on the context. Many of the people surveyed live in areas were a great amount of litter is present and therefore perceive one additional piece of litter as inconsequential. Where trash is abundant or there are not enough waste containers, residents tend to rationalize the behavior as outside of their level of concern.
  2. Direct confrontation of littering is met with negativity so it does not diminish littering. The images and wording of the campaign are meant to influence communities with value laden messaging such as, trash increases nuisance animals and reduces property values. A strong connection is made with images of children around litter where a sense of imminent harm and a need for protection. Relating trash to drinking water also has a strong correlation to reducing littering.
  3. The Millennial audience resonated with the campaign hashtag, #DontbeTrashy. The term “Trashy” implies a negative self-image; and, the association with littering behavior is a pairing that brings about a feeling of regret. The hashtag did not fare as well with the Spanish speaking audience as the direct translation of the phrase into Spanish is a little stronger and does not have a similar cultural meaning.

We completed an additional round of behavioral observations in the District of Columbia to track the impact of the presence of campaign materials on littering behavior. The rate of littering behavior since the placement of materials in 2014 had a 31% reduction in littering behavior at the four target areas in wards 5, 6, 7 and 8.

Our work in the District continues with holding cleanups to remove the litter already on the streets and in parks. Daily, we prevent litter with our Litter Prevention Campaign materials and with every new post of litter makes its way into our Potomac.

If you would like to request the littering campaign in your area, e-mail us at [email protected].

Litter Prevention Resources in the District

June 7th, 2016

The Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Litter Prevention Campaign is currently in Wards 5-8. Our outreach efforts have reached out to businesses, neighborhoods, churches, community groups and other nonprofits and District Departments in this area. We have been able to provide groups the general items in our Litter Prevention Toolkit which includes community planning documents, newsletter language, radio PSAs and more.

We have focused our outreach on providing Litter Prevention Posters, Yard Signs and Banners as we have found these materials to be an easy gateway for community members to begin reducing litter. Our materials have changed over the years of the Litter Campaign as we have done more research and heard more feedback. The most recent updates to the Campaign materials are explained in our Blog Post ‘New Litter Prevention Research for the District of Columbia’ with our most recent focus group findings as of May 2016.

In the future we hope to expand our Litter Prevention Campaign to wards 1-8 in the District to increase our impact on litter and reduce the amount of litter in our watershed. With continued support from the District Department of Energy and the Environment, we can help to meet the trash Total Maximum Daily Load for the Anacostia and reduce the pollution of 80% of the regions drinking water; the Potomac River.

The bottom picture is a road in Ward 7 before a cleanup. The top is the road after the cleanup. Our Litter campaign Yard Signs are no up along the road to prevent litter in the future.

Litter Prevention in Ward 7