By Trey Sherard, Anacostia Riverkeeper
Anacostia Riverkeeper celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2023 with our ninth year collaborating with Pope Branch Park Restoration Alliance on the MLK Day Clean Waterways Cleanup in honor of Dr. Joseph Glover. This cleanup is my favorite one every year, not because it’s our biggest single draw for volunteers, or our single biggest pull of trash, but because this cleanup was started by Dr. Glover and his neighbors 25 years ago. Led more recently by Dolly Davis, the group organizes multiple cleanups every year and is advocating to convert abandoned train tracks to a trail to combat the illegal dumping plaguing their community.
A total of 417 volunteers joined the cleanup this year, marking the largest turnout not just for this event, but the largest single volunteer event in Anacostia Riverkeeper’s history. The volunteers at our cleanups don’t just pick the trash up and bag it, they also sort it by material and product type to collect data we use for advocacy. The volunteers this year picked up, brought back, sorted, weighed, and recorded nearly five tons of trash, or 9,609 pounds in total.
Over two tons were bulk trash from illegal dumping, including 1,325 pounds of tires. It should be noted that this area is cleaned up no less than twice a year in January and then again in April, so this is not even a full year’s worth of dumping. Baggable litter weighed in at 5,478 pounds. and was led by 1,795 pounds of glass bottles. Another 661 pounds. was miscellaneous food and drink packaging, such as straw wrappers, bottle labels, chips bags, etc. As light as they are individually, single-use plastic bottles weighed in at 390 pounds for this cleanup. If you join us for a cleanup on the river banks or at the trash traps, the percentage by weight of plastic bottles jumps way up to 60% or more.
Plastic bottles and beverage containers more broadly are such an enormous portion of litter in the District that the Sierra Club’s DC Chapter joined this cleanup to kick off their second year of brand audits on bottles. In addition to quantifying what portion of the problem is caused by which companies, the bottle audits are reinforcing the other trash data we and other local groups have been compiling in order to push the District Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser to finally do something about the problem.
If you want to help, the Sierra Club will be looking for volunteers for future audits at future cleanups, and our coalition has a petition you can sign at https://bit.ly/SierraDC-PlasticPetition to ask the District to do better on their Zero Waste plan. Valuable additions to the plan would include a beverage container deposit fee, similar to what’s discussed in a report available at https://www.anacostiariverkeeper.org/resource-library/publications/.
We also want to thank Catholic University for bringing over one hundred students to the cleanup, Compass Coffee for donating coffee to the event, and Budget Dumpster for donating the giant roll-off dumpster for free. We’re also grateful to Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau for joining the cleanup and we look forward to working with her in her new role as Chair for oversight of the Department of Public Works.
If you see pollution in the Anacostia River, please report it to us at https://www.anacostiariverkeeper.org/programs/report-pollution/. If you know a place that needs a trash cleanup, or have a group interested in setting one up with us, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anacostia Riverkeeper’s office has moved to Barracks Row for most of 2023, and our mailing address is now 45 L St SW, PO Box #70565, Washington DC, 20024.