Thanks to our outstanding guest blogger Juliet for this week’s post! Juliet is a strategic communications consultant with a strong focus on issues related to the environment and public health. An accomplished marketing and communications executive, she has nearly 20 years’ experience in branding and communications strategies, public relations, social marketing and public awareness campaigns. Juliet is also an ardent yoga practitioner who frequently explores the world of vegan cooking (with wildly inconsistent results).
You can reach Juliet at either Juliet@julietglassroth.com, by posting a comment below, or by visiting our contact page.
You might think that trash is simply an esthetic problem. Obviously, it can interfere with the enjoyment and use of public waterways. But, in fact, it poses a serious health risk to both our planet and our bodies. For example, toxic chemicals are leached into the water by improperly discarded oil filters and batteries, just to name a few. Then, of course, there is the extreme danger trash poses to the aquatic life in our area. Bottom line: We need to get rid of the garbage in the Potomac (and everywhere else, but let’s start locally).
Thankfully, the Alice Ferguson Foundation (AFF) talks trash regularly. The organization – an environmental education nonprofit – hosts an Annual Potomac Watershed Trash Summit. This year’s event took on November 7 and was designed to learn, discuss, plan and, most importantly, take action against trash in the Potomac Watershed (if, like me, you weren’t entirely clear on what a “watershed” is, here’s a nice definition from the EPA: “that area of land, a bounded hydrologic system, within which all living things are inextricably linked by their common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of a community.”) The event brought together more than 300 area influencers and decision-makers to address litter on a cross-regional level.
The Summit is part of the broader Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative. In 2005, after 16 years of hosting the annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup, AFF and its partners recognized that this type of effort, though helpful, was not going to solve the problem. A systemic approach was required. So began the Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative, which challenged regional leadership to work collaboratively, evaluated solutions and educated the public. An important part of the initiative is the Trash Treaty. Over the past seven years, nearly 200 elected officials from the D.C. metropolitan area have signed the treaty, committing themselves and their jurisdictions to achieving a Trash Free Potomac.
Jean-Michel Cousteau (yes, son of that Cousteau) provided the keynote address which was quite poignant; on one of the northernmost, remote Hawaiian islands – seldom even visited by humans – lies what is essentially a garbage dump. How did all that trash get there? Improperly disposed of trash. Mr. Cousteau has developed a video (available in part here) on this problem that he shared at the Summit. In it, he picks through everything from discarded tooth brushes to mascara to enough lighters to light up an arena during a power ballad. I encourage as many people to view this short film. The visual of all that garbage on what should be a one of the most beautiful, pristine beaches in the world far more powerfully illustrates the impact of marine debris than my words ever could.
The Summit also provides an opportunity to learn about initiatives AFF has in the works as well as to hear about the ongoing efforts of its many long-running programs. For instance:
- AFF is rolling out the Trash Free Potomac Network, an online community connecting volunteers, organizations, business and governments as they join together to address the pervasive trash problem in the Potomac region. The Trash Network features information year-round about local cleanups, workshops and trash monitoring opportunities.
- Recently, AFF collaborated with National Geographic’s FieldScope program. The resulting interactive map will provide a much needed visualization and analysis tool, tracking cleanup and monitoring results by location – through GPS – over time.
- In 2011, AFF piloted a regional litter-prevention public awareness campaign – entitled “Your Litter Hits Close to Home” – in five jurisdictions across the metropolitan area. The objective of the campaign is to raise awareness and understanding of the issue, change attitudes and perceptions and persuade citizens to think twice about littering behavior. With successful efforts underway in select locations, the campaign will be expanded in 2013 to other communities across the Watershed.
- Perhaps most exciting – and certainly the biggest attention-grabber at the Summit – is the Trash Free Schools Project. This program combines education with action to reduce the trash footprint of K-12 schools. Students from area elementary and high schools – the environmental activists of the future! – participated in the Summit sharing their ideas for addressing the trash problem. I tend to worry a lot about the future, but if these guys have anything to do with it, I am a lot more hopeful!
For more information on Alice Ferguson Foundation and the Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative, please visit www.fergusonfoundation.org.