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

Faith In Our Watershed Month – May 2016

May 13th, 2016

Faith In Our Watershed, photo by Bill TownsendTim Murphy, Coordinator, Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative, Alice Ferguson Foundation

As I watch the drops of rain fall at the farm today, I am reminded that every molecule of water on the earth has always been here. It exists in our waterways, has seeped into the earth, resurfaced for our needs, and evaporated into the air, only to return again as rain. Refilling my 52 oz water jug from the tap supplied by our well, I start to wonder about all the places these molecules of water might have been.

The 2nd Annual Faith in our Watershed Month is a program sponsored by the Alice Ferguson Foundation. We are encouraging faith communities to consider where our water comes from and the gift it is to all the people of the earth. 2/3 of our body weight is water, making the presence of water the primary factor of human viability. The essential message is that how we treat our water will have a long-term impact on our survival. The actions we are calling for are:

  1. Inspiring your faith community through messages during worship or organized educational activities. We at the Alice Ferguson Foundation are ready as a resource for any programming you want to do.
  2. Take Action by cleaning up the trash in your area. Cleanup activities are listed year round on our Trash Network: trashnetwork.fergusonfoundation.org. You can even organize your own cleanup and list it on the network as well. We can take you through every step. Our Adopt A Litter Can program involves taking ownership of a litter can that we provide, to put in a place that is often littered. This program is getting popular, and proving to be an exceptional solution.
  3. Raise Awareness by posting our litter campaign materials. We can provide you with free promotional materials that are proven to reduce littering.

For more information on Faith in our Watershed Month, contact us: [email protected]

Mallows Bay Cleanup Volunteers Remove 4.84 Tons of Trash

May 13th, 2016

Mallows Bay Cleanup, Photo by Adirenne FarfallaThe 28th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup was April 16, 2016. AFF supported hundreds of cleanups all over the region from DC, MD, VA, to WV. Among the cleanup sites was Mallows Bay. Mallows Bay has recently passed the nomination process to become a National Marine Sanctuary and will be entering the next phase of designation involving a highly participatory and transparent public review process. 

Over 150 people volunteered at the cleanup, removing a total of 4.84 tons of trash!

Representing AFF were staff members Karen Jensen Miles, Adrienne Farfalla and Board of Directors Member Liz Theobalds. The site leader at Mallows Bay was Sammy Orlando from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Also in attendance was Charles County Commissioner Ken Robinson, Tom Roland. Chief of Parks & Grounds, Don Shomette, author of Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay, Susan Langley, Chief Underwater Archaeologist for the State of Maryland, Mary Groves with MD DNR Smallwood State park, Nick Kuttner with the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, Charlie Stek, Chair of the Mallows Bay- Potomac River Community group, Dave Howe and the team from Institute of Maritime History, Judy Lathrop’s Atlantic Kayak Company, and the Nanjemoy Fire and Rescue team. These volunteers freely engaged the cleanup participants in wonderful stories about the sunken vessels and ecological treasures in the bay.

Tim Emhoff from Nanjemoy Creek and Adrienne Farfalla from the Alice Ferguson Foundation lead education programs with fourth grade students from Gale-Bailey Elementary School after the cleanup on activities such as; Who Polluted the Potomac, and Trash Timeline.

Going Green is Good for Business!

April 29th, 2016

AFF award pic2Ten years ago, the Alice Ferguson Foundation began the design process for a 4,200 sq. ft. carbon neutral, net-zero energy, net-zero water education building. Yesterday, this state-of-the-art “green” education building was listed as one of Washington Business Journal’s Top 25 Best Real Estate Deals for 2015. The only nonprofit in attendance, we were recognized in the cadre of 24 other projects in the Washington D.C. metro area.

Our day-use education building is on track to meet strict certification requirements for the Living Building Challenge. Currently, only eight Living Building projects in the world are certified. To be fully certified, living buildings must prove that they are net-zero energy and water, and carbon neutral by operating for a full year and documenting those results…and we are on track.

farmWhen this project began there were no certified Living Buildings in existence, which meant we were entering unchartered territory. We overcame many hurdles and challenges to make the building a reality. The entire process took ten years—we finished construction last October and the final product was worth the wait!

The “Grass” educational building, as it is nicknamed for its plant-like ability to absorb the energy of the sun, is located at the edge of a south-facing field. Its roof spreads out like wings to capture the sun’s energy and a network of 20 geothermal wells, located in the grassy field in front of the building, help ensure we use this power most efficiently. These wells, along with solar panels on the roof, provide all of the renewable energy needed to power the building.

Living Buildings are designed to function like species in an ecosystem and mimic the beauty, resourcefulness and efficiency of nature. They are designed to regenerate—not deplete— their surroundings.

The building works in harmony with nature, aligning with the Challenge’s seven performance categories, which include:

  • Restoring a healthy local ecosystem
  • Sourcing all its water from rainfall
  • Harvesting all its energy from renewable sources
  • Choosing non-toxic materials
  • Supporting a just, equitable world
  • Maximizing physical and psychological health of guests
  • Celebrating beauty, inspiring transformative change through design

Once certified, AFF will join an elite group of leaders dedicated to the newest in sustainable technologies and educating the next generation of environmental stewards. We are honored to have been featured in Washington Business Journal’s list, and invite you to learn more about this innovative project.