|Trash along the Accotink watershed [photo from Let's Do It! Virginia]|
By Liz Kirchner
Federal clean water regulations now require counties to show that their water protection strategies are working to reduce trash like plastic bags, bottles, cigarette butts, and food containers in streams and rivers. To do that, Fairfax County is harnessing community concerns about water quality byteaching local environmental groups to start counting and describing trash along waterways.
A new litter-tracking program called Trash Assessments for Improved Environments (TAFIE) is being tested with local water protection groups like Annandale’s Friends of Accotink Creek and Friends of Little Hunting Creek.
Fairfax County’s Stormwater Planning Division brought together the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), Solid Waste Collection and Recycling Division, and the Clean Fairfax Council into an informal “Trash Working Group” to write an easy-to-use document for collecting useful data describing the nature of a stream’s trash load, including such criteria as “amount of trash” and “threat to human health.”
TAFIE is a work in process, says Dan Schwartz of SWCD. “It seems simple, but it’s very difficult to try to corral all litter into user-friendly categories that also inform the county about the nature and origin of the trash.”
In this season of spring stream clean-ups, SWCD is training groups to collect standardized TAFIE data that can be compared over the years and throughout the county and give advice about the ease of the data collection process. This process involves marking 100 feet of stream, collecting all the trash along that area, counting it, and categorizing it into descriptive groups like “illegal dumping” and “threat to wildlife.”
The group will come back to the same area to collect data on trash six months later, says Schwartz. That six-month spacing synchronizes the trash count deliberately with the two longest-running and most significant stream clean-ups: the springtime Potomac Watershed Cleanup (to occur April 14 this year) and the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup in the autumn. Those multi-state efforts bring together thousands of volunteers to haul tons of trash from water bodies throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.