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.