Posts Tagged ‘Trash Summit’

Alice Ferguson Foundation Leads Multi-Sector Conversation on Ending Local Plastic Pollution

October 22nd, 2018

Businesses share insight on finding solutions to plastic pollution

Arlington, VA – The Alice Ferguson Foundation convened more than one hundred fifty policymakers, nonprofit partners, and local business owners for a one-day conference on solutions to local trash pollution. Now in its 12th year, the 2018 Trash Summit, themed “Business Solutions to Plastic Pollution” featured speakers from organizations and businesses, including KCI Technologies, Marriott International, Farmers Restaurant Group, Elevation Burger, Busboys and Poets, Our Last Straw and others. The event featured a keynote speaker from As You Sow, a nonprofit that works directly with large multinational corporations on recycling and waste diversion.

Conrad MacKerron, Senior Vice President of As You Sow, delivers the keynote address.

The event included speakers from the Virginia State Senate, Montgomery County’s Department of Environmental Protection, the District Department of Public Works, the District Department of Energy and Environment, Prince George’s County Department of the Environment and George Mason University, among others. Speakers discussed the science and practice behind new trash reduction and management initiatives aimed at removing single use plastics from area restaurants, and how creative partnerships between businesses and organizations can raise awareness and drive systems change.


Other topics featured at the event included research conducted by George Mason University Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center, discussion from businesses on source reduction procedures and policies, data from D.C, Maryland, and Virginia trash reduction efforts, and a conversation on waste-reduction best practices.

Presentations and other resources from the conference are available online here.

12th Annual Trash Summit: Business Solutions for Plastic Pollution was made possible with support from George Mason University and other sponsors.

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.


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.

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.



2013 Potomac Watershed Trash Summit

October 28th, 2013

Guest post by Miriam Gennari, read more from her blog

The 8th Annual Potomac Watershed Trash Summit happened on October 18th, 2013 at the University of District of Columbia. The event commenced with the attendees taking field trips to different area locations for some exciting hands-on experiences.

The concept of trash free adventures sounded interesting. Like many of the attendees, I found myself torn between four equally enthralling topics including composting, community outreach as well as a trip along the Potomac to do some trash trapping.

I chose to arrive early to the newly remodeled UDC campus just off of the Van Ness Metro Stop on Connecticut Avenue NW to take a tour of the campus.

The University is one of the few land grant universities to be located in an urban area. So from the perspective of the densely populated concrete jungle that is Washington, DC, the University’s staff at the College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Science(CAUSE) explores issues like climate change and pollution from a unique position.

Their perspective is not only on the global challenges to the entire Earth, but also includes issues “down the pike” that, as the population of metro Washington, DC continues growing, will have impacts at the University itself and its close neighbors.

The University offer to host this year’s Trash Summit served as an example of the sense of community that inspires the organizers of the event, the Alice Ferguson Foundation.

I found work accomplished by Dr. Tolessa Deksisska at the UDC’s Water Resources Management Laboratory to be fascinating. At the lab, water is tested for many contaminants. This is the Doctor’s specialty. For those who are unaware, the Washington Aqueduct is where Washington, DC’s water and Arlington County’s water originates. Attendees had lots of questions and, rather than cause a stir, let me just say that Dr. Deksisska informed us that citizens should judge the safety of our water by our own tolerance and sensitivity. OUCH!

The Plenary session began with a panel discussion. Government staff discussed the various successes experienced as well as the challenges still faced. While I cannot summarize the entire discussion, the impression I took away from the discussion was that persons in government have a job to do and they do what they are told. We citizens must be more vocal about the importance of our area’s water resources because there are so many competing agendas and with the state of affairs in our nation’s capital, a water issue is hard to diffuse, but in tight budget times cannot be easily flushed away. Vocal citizens can play a part in pushing the issue to the forefront and making it a top priority. Having had this impression, I must add, in fairness, that since it began its work in 1998, the success so far of the Alice Ferguson Foundation is nothing short of amazing. The Foundation’s efforts have resulted in the removal of 6.5 million pounds of trash from neighborhoods and waterways served.

After the general discussion ended, the approach turned narrower with the Framework for a Trash Free Watershed. The foundation asked guests to focus on five distinctive areas: Education, Regulation, Policy, Market-Based Approaches and Enforcement.

In the session I attended on Policy, big news!! In the upcoming session, a member of DC’s Council plans to introduce a ban on single-use polystyrene! One thing I tried to help clear up is the difference between single-use and bulk polystyrene. There were some concerns that if Vincent Gray were not mayor, would the whole plan decay like a disgraced banana decomposing on concrete? After these concerns were aired, the staff for DDOE assured everyone that the “plan for the ban” was embedded in the overall mission of DC so it would remain even if there were a leadership change at the top. Big News!!

I could go on and on, but I won’t. I just want to thank Lori Argulles, Executive Director of the Alice Ferguson Foundation for a fantastic event. I also want to thank Clara Elias and the rest of her team for what I know was one of the most sustainable events I have ever attended. Good thing, becuae the future of our community is depending on us.

From Butterflies to Talking Trash

November 1st, 2012

By Clara Elias, Program Associate, Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative

I made my move to the Alice Ferguson Foundation this last March from the world of butterfly conservation where I spent much of my time in grasslands surveying tiny blue butterflies. These grasslands were often in disturbed areas, along roads and railways tracks – areas that are havens for grassland-loving plants and animals whose habitats are fast disappearing. As you can imagine these areas are also full of trash: plastic bags strangling the vegetation, cigarette butts leaching nicotine, car batteries leaking into the soil. It is disgusting. It breaks my heart to know these habitats are threatened not only by large forces, such as development and changing climates, but by litter carelessly dropped along the roads.

Though littering is a personal choice its effects are global. I have seen how litter has negatively impacted butterfly ecosystems in California and Oregon, and since moving to the DC area, I have seen the trash that plagues the Potomac Watershed. The problem has a simple solution that is difficult to achieve: convince people to dispose of their trash responsibly. To be successful we need to work holistically to get the institutions, infrastructure and policies in place to see a lasting reduction in litter. The Trash Summit is where many of these solutions begin, which is why I am so excited about participating in this year’s event.

What makes the Trash Summit so crucial is that it engages stakeholders, allowing them to learn, be heard, share expertise, and contribute to the solution. Anyone who calls the Potomac home has a stake in its future, which is why we work to bring together elected officials, government agencies, businesses, non-profits, youth and concerned citizens every fall during the Trash Summit. Our sessions not only have knowledgeable speakers to learn from, but include lengthy discussions geared towards developing a plan for how to apply what is learned to the Potomac Watershed.

I am especially excited for the keynote address by Jean-Michel Cousteau, ocean explorer and environmentalist, who will be connecting our local problems to a global issue that threatens our oceans’ health. It is important to recognize that, while the Trash Summit works to address this problem regionally, our local efforts are a part of the global solution for marine debris. I also can’t wait for the session, titled “Compost: Protecting our Watershed,” which looks at how compost can be used to manage stormwater and prevent erosion, protecting the region’s water while building healthy soils. It is these types of solutions, which help solve the trash problem while protecting our environment and building local economy, that are essential for creating a bright future for the Potomac.

To tackle the issue of trash, we not only need our region’s leaders and the people working on policy and regulation, but people, such as yourself, with on-the-ground knowledge of what the issues really are and what solutions hold the most promise. I hope you will consider joining me on November 7th at the Silver Spring Civic Building to dialogue and begin making plans for how to create a trash free Potomac Watershed.

Visit the 7th annual Potomac Watershed Trash Summit’s homepage for more information or to register.