Never Too Young To Make a Difference: 5th Graders Divert School Waste from Landfills

July 10th, 2018

Students from CCPCS participate in the Trash Timeline activity, which explores decomposition rates of different materials.

This past school year, hundreds of students from around the region participated in the Trash Free Schools program. Students learned about waste production, the impacts of litter on the environment and took action to clean up their communities and waterways.

Through a Community Stormwater Solutions grant from the District Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE), Alice Ferguson Foundation staff worked with Capital City Public Charter School (CCPCS) to engage 80 fifth graders in creative student-led action projects to prevent litter, clean up waterways, and ensure healthy communities in the District. 

During a program led by Alice Ferguson Foundation staff, students explored decomposition rates of commonly littered items by creating a visual timeline. Student also conducted a waste audit in their cafeteria to learn about the kinds of trash produced at the school.

Results from cafeteria waste audit at Capital City Public Charter School. These results informed student-led action projects.

Two field trips, first to Hard Bargain Farm and then to the Fort Totten Transfer Station, supplemented the student’s learning by highlighting what happens to trash, recycling and composting after they leave our schools and homes.

Alice Ferguson Foundation staff met with students to brainstorm and discuss potential action projects and provide feedback on detailed project proposals. Students decided to launch an expanded trash disposal station, which would allow them to expand recycling, expand composting and create a table for unwanted and untouched food for sharing. Students designed the disposal station, created signs to explain proper sorting and volunteered to stand by the sorting station to help students properly dispose of their lunch waste.

Thanks to the students hard work, the station was launched in mid-May and has already helped to divert more than 100 pounds of compost and recycling from the landfill!

If you’re interested in joining the Trash Free Schools program, email us at [email protected] or call (301)292-5665.

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!