Archive for the ‘Trash Initiative’ Category

Celebrating the Year of the Anacostia

January 17th, 2018
By Laura Cattell Noll, Program Manager, Trash Free Initiative

 

In the 60 years since our founding, we have seen firsthand the importance of the Anacostia River and, in particular, the educational, cultural, recreational and economic resources the waterfront offers to District residents. Earlier this month, the DC Mayor declared 2018 as the Year of the Anacostia to pay tribute to this incredible local resource.

Here are just a few reasons we’re so excited to celebrate the Year of the Anacostia:

The Anacostia waterfront provides District residents with unparalleled access to public lands in their own community. These riverfront public lands are on par with some of the best publicly accessible waterfronts in the world, including San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and Chicago’s lakefront parks. Since the 1970s, we have worked closely with the National Park Service, including Anacostia Park to encourage students and community members to visit our national public lands and discover nature in their own back yard. Green spaces are important to our communities and they bring real value to our lives.


The Anacostia river and waterfront provide an incredible opportunity for environmental and watershed education.
Learning is both more meaningful and more relevant when it happens in a student’s community. This year is also the 20th anniversary of our educational program, Bridging the Watershed, which brings more than 6,000 students per year out to their local parks. Through this program, hundreds of students visit Anacostia riverfront parks to engage in inquiry-based scientific field studies. The transformative experiences during these hands-on learning programs inspire our youth to utilize their local resources and engage with the environment in meaningful ways.

The Anacostia waterfront inspires community-based watershed stewardship.

As an important tributary of the Potomac River, the Anacostia watershed has long-been a focus of the Annual Potomac Watershed Cleanup. Last year, more than 9,000 volunteers, removed more than 400,000 pounds of trash from the watershed. During our 30th cleanup later this April, volunteers will come together to host dozens of cleanup sites across the Anacostia River Watershed. We continue to be inspired by the unprecedented collaboration within the Anacostia watershed that includes thousands of volunteers and a diverse coalition of government, non-profit, business and community partners.

We are excited to celebrate, enjoy and honor the history of the Anacostia River and surrounding communities this year, and in the years to come.

Learn more about the Year of the Anacostia here.

Green Your Holiday Gift-Wrapping

December 16th, 2017

 

In the United States, more trash is produced between Thanksgiving and the New Year than any other time of year. And a lot of the Holiday trash that we throw out does not break down quickly.

While regular paper takes  2 to 4 weeks to decompose, modern wrapping paper is usually made with foil and coated with plastic film, making it slow to break down and difficult to recycle. Plastic itself never decomposes.

But this year, we can all do our small part to green our holidays gift-wrapping and gift-giving:

  1. Use the gift bags or wrapping paper you’ve saved from last year’s gifts for this year’s colorful (and green) present wrapping. The smaller scraps and pieces can be used as holiday tags or cut into small pieces to decorate the gift.
  2. Have a newspaper lying around, or some old books you’ve been meaning to throw away? Paper can be great for wrapping, especially if you include a holiday-themed passage or story!
  3. Give a gift within a gift: items can be wrapped in a scarf, sweater, sock, or a brightly patterned reusable shopping bag.
  4. Surprise your friends and family with a switcharoo. Use the box from a product you’ve bought previously, and put your present inside. Imagine the surprise when your friend receives a box of goldfish crackers, only to find the book they’ve been wishing for inside!
  5. Baskets, buckets, and other containers make for fun holiday gift boxes – and they definitely stand out in the pile.

This year, express your creativity! Share your green holiday ideas with us on twitter by tagging us at @AliceFerguson.

 

 

 

Innovation & Collaboration at this Year’s Trash Summit

December 12th, 2017
Guest post by Lowell George, National River Cleanup Manager at American Rivers

 

At the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s 11th Annual Trash Summit more than 200 people – including high school students, nonprofit staff, concerned citizens, business leaders, and elected officials – brought with them their own passion for clean spaces and waterways and ideas for how to solve the persistent pollution problem that affects our nation. While solutions ranged from finding alternatives to balloon releases at weddings to District-wide bag taxes, they were all united by what Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Benjamin Grumbles called “the power of innovation and triumph of collaboration.”

Power of Innovation

While many would argue that innovations over the past 100 years, especially those related to single-use plastic products, are a large cause of the littler problem we face today, innovation is also one of the most promising solutions moving forward. During the keynote address and a panel discussion at the Trash Summit, speakers from the Rozalia Project, Prince George’s County Department of the Environment, Clean Virginia Waterways, and MGM National Harbor highlighted steps their groups are taking to keep up with pollution prevention and mitigation:

  • The Rozalia Project, a nonprofit working to clean and protect our ocean, developed a product individuals can use in their daily lives to stop microfibers from ever getting out of our washing machines and reaching our seas.
  • Prince George’s County is setting up wildlife cameras throughout the region to monitor illegal dumping while also tracking litter via the PGCLitterTRAK app to help develop accurate maps of the litter collected.
  • Clean Virginia Waterways is helping change behavior at restaurants and weddings by providing paper (instead of plastic) straws to eating establishments and by showing engaged couples alternatives to balloon release send-offs.
  • MGM is taking on sustainable initiatives in their operations, including a 700-gallon cistern that stores rain water to be used in back-of-house toilets and an oyster shell recycling program connected to their restaurant.
 

While these products and initiatives vary in size and scope, they all serve as easy alternatives to current norms and educate the public on the dangers of current behaviors. By stopping litter at the source and reacting quickly to new pollution threats, these innovations are efficiently and effectively creating long-term impacts.

Triumph of Collaboration

Innovation does seem like a strong option for overcoming the obstacles posed by litter, but innovating in a silo won’t be nearly as effective, as was demonstrated during the Trash Summit. Throughout the day, discussions came back to the theme of the power of partnerships and the essential role collaboration – between nonprofits, private companies, and government agencies – plays in the problem solving process. While it can be easy to see why working together around a common problem would lead to a stronger cure quicker, it can be more challenging to identify the pivotal role competition plays in this issue.

Throughout the Summit, political leaders, including DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III, were talking trash with one another – and not just sharing their ways to solve their respective pollution problems. Each region’s representative touched on the ongoing competition between one another to be the most environmentally friendly and proactive, referencing plastic bag taxes, Styrofoam bans, and fights for bottle return bills in their cases. While competition in other areas of government or between states can lead to inefficiency and the ineffective use of resources, this friendly battle seems to be benefiting all involved. Each governing body is able to see what initiatives or programs the others are launching and replicate or adapt them to fit their jurisdiction’s needs. By having such a concentration of environmentally-focused decision-makers in a relatively small but populous area, the DC metro region is able to compete, collaborate, and evolve together for a greater impact and triumph for all.

   

According to Katie Register from Clean Virginia Waterways, “regulation, innovation, and education” are how changes are made in today’s society. The presenters and other panelists at the Trash Summit reinforced this takeaway by demonstrating the top-down and bottom-up forces driving change in their work in the DMV and across the country. While education may be the best long-term solution for preventing litter and pollution, nonprofits, companies, and government agencies are turning to incentives and innovations to solve the problems trash is creating for our communities now. Individuals, companies, and local governments are working together and pushing each other toward a more sustainable future.

While there is still much progress to be made in creating a trash free system of waterways and natural spaces, the Trash Summit made clear that there are already victories to celebrate in the powerful partnerships that have been forged and the innovations developed that will continue to shape our future and push us to a cleaner planet.

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!

 

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.