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.

2017 Annual Holiday Open House

12/03/2017
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm 2017 Annual Holiday Open House
Alice Ferguson Foundation, Accokeek MD

Alice Ferguson Foundation Recognized with 2017 Green Business of the Year Award

October 16th, 2017

On Friday, October 6, the Alice Ferguson Foundation was recognized by the Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce as the 2017 Green Business of the Year at its annual Excellence in Business Awards Gala. The award recognizes outstanding achievement in the county and pays tribute to organizations that have demonstrated measurable growth, community involvement, support and commitment to sustainability.

 

“We are honored to receive such a prestigious award. Since our founding more than 60 year ago, we’ve brought environmental education to life for more than half a million students around our region,” said Lori Arguelles, Alice Ferguson Foundation’s president and CEO. “In the last decade and as a testament to our founding principles, we have invested in upgrading and modernizing our campus to make it one of world’s greenest, most energy efficient building complexes in the world.”

 

The Foundation’s environmental campus includes the net-zero water, net-zero energy, and carbon neutral Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Environmental Center, a Living Building Challenge certified project that meets the world’s most stringent green building requirements. The Cafritz Environmental Center, which hosts thousands of students each year, is only the 13th project in the world to achieve full Living Building Challenge certification.

The Prince George’s Chamber of Commerce is an alliance of more than 900 businesses, representing over 300,000 employees, making it one of the largest chambers in the state of Maryland and the Washington Metropolitan region. Their annual gala honors businesses and organizations that go above and beyond with noteworthy contributions to their respective fields, and which help maximize the economic potential of the county as a whole.

The Alice Ferguson Foundation is a nonprofit located in Accokeek, Maryland. The Foundation’s educational programs unite students, educators, park rangers, communities, regional organizations, and government agencies throughout the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area to promote the environmental sustainability of the Potomac River watershed.

Cancelled: Fall Hayride & Campfire at Hard Bargain Farm

11/04/2017
6:30 pm - 8:30 pm Cancelled: Fall Hayride & Campfire at Hard Bargain Farm
Alice Ferguson Foundation, Accokeek MD

Oktoberfest for a Cause: Marking 35 Years of Celebrating Heritage & Environment

October 9th, 2017

Accokeek, MD – Each year, community members from across Prince George’s County and the surrounding area have the chance to enjoy fall festivities at Hard Bargain Farm. The Alice Ferguson Foundation opened its doors again last Saturday, October 7, for its 35th annual Oktoberfest at its environmental campus in Accokeek, Maryland. One of the area’s most popular fall activities, this year’s Oktoberfest featured authentic Bavarian dances, traditional Alpine music, German food and dessert, hay wagon rides to the Potomac River, visits with barnyard animals and the beautiful autumn landscape of the 330-acre farm.

“For three and a half decades, this autumn tradition had brought the community together to celebrate the season and each other,” said Lori Arguelles, Alice Ferguson Foundation’s President and CEO. “It’s our honor and pleasure to welcome everyone to this beautiful slice of autumn festivities at the heart of Piscataway National Park.”

 

The Washington, D.C.-based Bavarian dance group Alt Washingtonia Schuhplattlers performed traditional dances and offered lively singalongs throughout the day. Children met the farm’s barnyard animals, squeezed apple cider with an old-fashioned cider press, and enjoyed hands-on arts and crafts in the Foundation’s historic cabin.

 

For the third year in a row, celebrations took place on the lawn of the Foundation’s environmental education center, the first net zero “Living Building” in Maryland and one of only 15 such certified buildings in the world.

All proceeds from the event benefited Foundation’s core programs, which provide environmental education programs to more than 10,000 students each year, as well as litter and trash prevention and education outreach efforts across Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

The event was supported by MGM National Harbor, Pepco, Old Line Bank, SMECO, Eagle Hill, Eight O’Clock Coffee, MOM’s Organic Market, TATA, Walton, Buck Distributing, Cloverland Stables LLC, ColorNet Printing, Greater Prince George’s County Business Roundtable, G.S. Proctor & Associates, Mayson-Dixon Strategic Consulting, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, Prince George’s Councilmembers Mel Franklin, Andrea C. Harrison, Mary Lehman, Karen Toles and Todd Turner, as well as Rodgers Consulting, Washington Gas, and Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.

The Alice Ferguson Foundation’s educational programs unite students, educators, park rangers, communities, regional organizations, and government agencies throughout the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area to promote the environmental sustainability of the Potomac River watershed.

Webinar: Anti-Littering: Social Marketing for Behavior Change

09/26/2017
1:00 pm - 2:00 pm Webinar: Anti-Littering: Social Marketing for Behavior Change

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!

 

More Than 400,000 Pounds of Trash Collected and Removed During Regional Cleanup Event

August 18th, 2017

Thousands of volunteers participate in this year’s 29th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup

Drawing from results collected across 270 cleanup sites, more than 9,000 volunteers collected 400,000 pounds of trash throughout the watershed in Maryland, the District of Columbia, Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania during this year’s 29th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup.

“The impact of this cleanup goes beyond the pounds of litter removed every April. The cleanup is a building block in uniting people and organizations to connect with their local watershed,” said Lori Arguelles, Alice Ferguson Foundation’s President and CEO. “As one of the largest regional event of its kind, the Cleanup brings out community leaders and hundreds of local organizations. Every day, our partners and volunteers inspire us with their commitment to a healthy, clean, and trash free Potomac River Watershed.”

 

 

A wide range of litter was removed during the cleanup – including 21,025 plastic bags, 2,043 tires, 9,267 cigarettes, a variety of bicycles, car parts and more. Since its inception in 1989, the Potomac River Watershed Cleanup has mobilized more than 150,000 volunteers to remove more than 7 million pounds of trash.

“With the increasing awareness of the issue of microplastics accumulating in the oceans, it is critical we catch the trash at its source – on land,” said Hannah Seligmann, volunteer coordinator with the Alice Ferguson Foundation. “Every person who has picked up one straw, one plastic bag, one flip flop, has contributed to the massive momentum that keeps the water we drink safe.”

The Potomac is one of the largest rivers that flows into the Chesapeake Bay, and the source of up to 75% of the drinking and washing water in the region. Littering, runoff, and trash contribute to a widespread problem that affects everyone.

“Today, local action is more important than ever. Small efforts can have big effects when it comes to the health of our waterways,” said Matt Fleischer, Executive Director of The Rock Creek Conservancy. “This year alone we removed 817 bags of trash and 470 recycling from Rock Creek alone. That’s 1287 bags of litter that didn’t end up in the Potomac River, the Chesapeake Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean.”

The annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup is one of many of the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s programs designed to promote environmental sustainability in the region and connect people to the natural world. The Foundation’s Regional Litter Prevention Campaign empowers communities to “Take Control, Take Care of Your Trash,” led to a 30% reduction in observable littering behavior in the targeted District of Columbia neighborhoods between 2013 and 2015. Another program, Trash Free Schools, engages more than 2,000 students annually from more than 20 schools throughout the DC metro region.

Several hundred organizations and groups partner in the Cleanup each year, including Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Anacostia Watershed Society, C&O Canal Association, C & O Canal Trust, Charles County Public Works, City of Alexandria, DC Department of Energy and Environment, Fairfax County, Friends of Accotink Creek, Friends of Little Hunting Creek, Greenbelt Department of Public Works, Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, Joint Base Andrews, Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, Montgomery County Parks and Planning, National Park Service, Prince George’s County, Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District, Reston Association, Rock Creek Conservancy and Rock Creek Nature Center.

The Alice Ferguson Foundation connects people to the natural world, sustainable agricultural practices, and the cultural heritage of their local watershed through education, stewardship, and advocacy.

Homeschool Open House

08/15/2017
9:00 am - 2:00 pm Homeschool Open House
Cafritz Environmental Center, Accokeek MD

Film in the Woods: Rocky Horror Show

10/28/2017
11:30 pm Film in the Woods: Rocky Horror Show
Hard Bargain Amphitheater, Accokeek MD