Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Potomac Watershed Trash Summit

More than 300 people gathered last Wednesday for the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s (AFF) 5th Annual Potomac Watershed Trash Summit.

Plastic bottles and garbage on the bank of a river
Photo credit: Horia Varlan
A Trash Summit?

AFF's annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup has pulled 3 million tons of trash out of the Potomac, the Anacostia, and their tributaries since it started in 1989 (including 250 tons in 2010's cleanup). In 2005, after 16 years of running cleanups, the trash-removers decided they needed to get to the root of the problem and inspire people to stop the flow of trash into the river in the first place. They started the Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative, with the goal of creating a trash-free Potomac by 2013: "so our 25th cleanup will be our last cleanup."

The campaign includes bringing local jurisdictions together once a year to talk about legislation, law enforcement, and public education. And they've gotten the federal government involved, too. This year, the EPA announced a "trash pollution diet" for the Anacostia River by establishing a Total Maximum Daily Load for trash.  It's a concept usually used for bacteria, PCBs, and other invisible waterborne pollutants. Now we'll also have a limit on more visible pollution.

How did we get to the point that we need this? Many people don't realize that the trash they throw on the ground in the middle of the city eventually washes down storm sewers and into our local rivers. Some long-overdue efforts to change the way the sewer system overflows should eventually help by catching trash instead of floating it into the river. In the meantime, AFF and local partners are teaming up on a public education campaign.

Here are their recommendations for things you can do to help reduce the flow of trash (sign their pledge here):
  • dispose of trash in a responsible manner;
  • pick up at least one piece of litter each day;
  • purchase products made of recycled materials and with less packaging;
  • recycle at home, office, faith-based gatherings, school, and any public event;
  • use reusable shopping bags;
  • limit your use of single-use beverage containers; and
  • spread the word to your workplace, friends, and neighbors.
And save the date for their next Potomac River Cleanup: April 9, 2011.

What else are you doing to reduce trash? What else needs to be done in our region? Leave a comment below.

oil and water
Photo credit: kryn13