Let's Trash Talk

 Micro plastics round table. Photo courtesy of AFF

Micro plastics round table. Photo courtesy of AFF

The Alice Ferguson Foundation held their 12th Annual Trash Summit on “Business Solutions for Plastic Pollution,” which united hundreds of community members, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, jurisdiction staff and public officials to discuss corporate entity’s influence on trash pollution prevention. Our host and Coalition member, Alice Ferguson Foundation (AFF), aims to connect and educate youth with Mother Nature, the cultural heritage of their local watershed and teaches sustainable agriculture practices such as regenerative egg implementation. AFF found themselves in the trash business when their students noticed all the washed up trash while walking along the shoreline. From that moment, they set out to clean up the Potomac River and arranged necessary clean ups to remove the litter. 30 years later, AFF will celebrate the 31st anniversary of the Potomac watershed clean up this coming April!

The event had TONS of dialogue on solutions to keep our streams, rivers and creeks free of plastic throughout the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, through lively roundtable discussions, informative presentations and knowledgeable speakers. Many speakers shared their concerns, successes and work their organizations are doing to prevent garbage, plastics, and micro-plastics from entering our waterways. My favorite part of the conference was the panel, where key speakers from corporate entities like Busboys and Poets, Farmers Restaurant Group and Marriott International, spoke about how their company has committed to sustainability.

 Photo courtesy of AFF

Photo courtesy of AFF

Dan Simons, co-owner of Farmers Restaurant Group, talked about the successes and failures the company in D.C. has faced after committing to not serve or sell plastic bottles or bottled water to its customers. Farmers Restaurant Group prides themselves on being mission above profit and have kept millions of waste out of the waste supply chain by refusing to sell plastic straws, and instead opting for paper and hay straws.

Andy Shallal, the proprietor of Busboys and Poets, joked about how some of his customers actually believe that they “are too cheap to serve straws.” His main focus is stressing the importance of educating the customer about the companies ‘green’ initiatives and why they are implementing these practices.

Denise Naguib, who works for Marriott International, expressed just how huge Marriott’s global footprint truly is. Marriott, composed of 6,900 hotels in 122 countries, began a straw initiative this year to phase out the quarter of a billion stir sticks and straws used by a million and a half of people that come to their hotels every single day.

Thomas Sprehe from KCI Technologies Inc., a consulting engineering business, also spoke on the panel regarding their company’s responsiveness to their clients, by giving them solutions to their waste problems by means of science and engineering. KCI is co-responsible for creating the trash wheel that collects floating debris in the Baltimore Inner Harbor, and soon implementing the WasteShark, an aquatic drone that swims through the water collecting floatable plastics and other non-biodegradable materials from urban waterways. In addition to these devices, they also manage landfills and recycling centers.

 Scott Surovell. Photo courtesy of AFF

Scott Surovell. Photo courtesy of AFF

Following the panel, Virginia State Senator Scott Surovell spoke on his work to clean up waterways since being elected. Senator Surovell works tirelessly with constituents, and has organized daunting clean ups for creeks throughout Northern Virginia. At one site upstream of the Potomac, 180 shopping carts were pulled out of local creeks in just one year, in addition to plastics, bags, containers, tractor tires, bottles and guns. He shared how much of a shock this was to him and the surrounding communities. Pollution of creeks and streams are a recurring problem for the state, that they are still trying to solve. However, Senator Surovell has gained a lot of knowledge regarding everything trash, and was even crowned the Shopping Cart Warrior of Mount Vernon, Virginia. He hopes to engage younger generations to volunteer and get active to build awareness and promote civic activism throughout the community.  

The Summit also gave special recognition to corporate entities that have a commitment to sustainability. One in particular that stood out to me was MGM National Harbor. MGM, taking up a million square feet of space, collects every single bag of trash and sorts them back of house, so that materials that need to be recycled are recycled. Every bit of food waste that MGM accumulates is taken out and placed in their biodigester. I had no idea that a huge company like MGM would be doing this, and hearing about their dedication pleased me tremendously!

 Lori Arguelles. Photo courtesy of AFF

Lori Arguelles. Photo courtesy of AFF

The conference went over and above my expectations. The Trash Summit opened my eyes further to the universal problem surrounding trash, and left such a powerful mark on me. The businesses who spoke are models for their industry, and I am thankful for their hard work and dedication to help fix this problem. Additionally, there was no better way to end such an impactful conference than giving metal reusable straws to the attendees when one simply, traded in their name tag to be
re-purposed. This was the icing on the cake for me and a fabulous parting gift! I know that I am already looking forward to the next Summit and I highly recommend you experience it for yourself, too. Lori Arguelles, director and CEO of Alice Ferguson Foundation said it best, “There is only so much we can do as community activists, there are only so many laws that you can pass and policies that you can put in place, that, ultimately, without our business partners working in collaboration with our community activists and our nonprofit organizations, are we really gonna get there.”

Taylor Montford is the communications intern for the Choose Clean Water Coalition.