In February of 2011, the District Department of the Environment (DDOE) awarded Groundwork Anacostia River DC (GWARDC) the maintenance contract of the Bandalong Litter Trap that was installed on the Watts Branch Tributary in early 2009. Since then, the Bandalong Litter Trap has proven to be not only an effective piece of technology for removing litter and debris from our natural waterways, but also an incredibly educational and useful device for GWARDC. GWARDC is part of a Groundwork USA, a non-profit organization compiled of 25 trusts nationwide established in places that have experienced decades of decline in their physical and social environments. These trusts utilize their most valuable resources, the people, in order to promote the environmental, economic, and social well being of their communities.
Launched in Ward 7 in 2009, GWARDC focuses on the communities that border the Anacostia River and the Anacostia watershed. Executive Director, Dennis Chestnut, grew up on the Anacostia River and has a special connection to the area for several reasons. Having learned to swim in the Anacostia as a child, Chestnut had dreams of sharing these experiences with his children.
As time went on, Chestnut witnessed the decline of the once healthy river. As areas became more urbanized and the river became one of the most polluted rivers in the nation, Chestnut realized how vital the restoration of his beloved river was. Now a father of six grown children and grandfather of 13, he still wants his family to enjoy the river the way he did and has made it his life’s goal to restore the health of the Anacostia. When GWARDC, in collaboration with the Anacostia Riverkeeper, received grant funding from the DDOE for the maintenance of the Bandalong, Chestnut and other Groundwork staff saw the potential for the Bandalong to serve as much more than just an efficient means of capturing floatables.
The Bandalong became a pivotal part of their “Green Team” program. Composed of 10-12 young adults, “Green Team” members receive job training and instruction in conservation, restoration, community outreach and engagement, as well as other important skills. “Green Team” members meet with local schools and community groups to give a presentation called “Talking Trash” to inform their peers and family members about the detrimental effects of littering. Once they have given the presentation, “Green Team” members implement a variety of service learning projects with the students.
The Bandalong Litter Trap became a perfect tool for one of the Green Team’s service learning projects. Executive Director, Dennis Chestnut spoke about the Bandalong’s unique ability to educate the community.
“Having the Bandalong has really helped our Green Team program to be more effective because instead of simply giving a presentation to a class room full of students, our Green Team members are then able to take these kids out and get them physically involved with the Bandalong,” Chestnut said. “Seeing all the litter in one central location is really powerful and helps to drive the message home to so many folks.”
“Hopefully with the emergence of green jobs and an increased focus on sustainability, other jurisdictions will realize how the Bandalong showcases how these things can really work.”
Chestnut further explained that it isn’t just grade school children that are getting involved, but people of all ages.
“We have really become aware of how this type of technology can be used in our goal of sustainability,” Chestnut said. “All kinds of people from church groups, grade school children, college students, families want to get involved with this service group opportunity.”
“Hopefully going forward, other jurisdictions will follow DC’s lead and see the incredible benefit in investing in this technology and supporting the resources that can work right along with it. By combining the effective equipment, the Bandalong, with a community’s most valuable resources, the people, we are able to make the Bandalong the most efficient system operating.”
Since February, the number of volunteers engaged with the Bandalong has continued to grow. Because the DDOE realized the Bandalong’s education and outreach ability, the DDOE provided GWARDC with additional waders. With these additional waders, GWARDC is able to bring much larger groups of people to the site each time they visit. After volunteers are given an educational tutorial explaining how the Bandalong works and a thorough safety briefing, they are able to get involved with the hands-on learning.
“It isn’t uncommon to have groups of 25-30 people visit the litter trap on a service learning outing,” Chestnut said.
With the additional waders, GWARDC is able to get more individuals in the water to work with the Bandalong Litter Trap. “It’s a really great project to be involved with because with the Bandalong, the education and outreach really works,” Chestnut said.
Aside from the service learning trips, GWARDC sends two people every week to maintain the device. From start to finish, the two individuals are able to remove, separate, and weigh all the litter in less than two and a half hours. They then log the amount of trash and categorize it by type, removing larger items like tires, construction materials, appliances, etc. so they can report back to the DDOE. At minimum, the trap is cleaned out once a week and after every rain event.
Furthermore, GWARDC has implemented different types of monitoring. Aside from the type of litter collected, they also report on the weather conditions and the types of wildlife present at each visit. Additionally, GWARDC conducts water sampling several times a month near the Bandalong to see if the water quality is improving.
Two new Bandalong Litter Traps are being installed in Washington DC in the future. One of Bandalong was funded by the Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Act, or the “Bag Law,” which requires all District businesses selling food or alcohol to charge $.05 for each disposable paper or plastic bag. The law came as a response to a trash study of the Anacostia River, which found that disposable plastic bags were one of the largest sources of litter in the Anacostia. The District Bag Law aims at reducing pollution in District waterways, while raising money to clean and protect them.
With two additional Bandalong Litter Traps being installed in DC, Groundwork is excited about expanding their educational and outreach efforts, as well as providing job training for local youth.
“The Bandalong has a positive long-term and sustainable effect on the community,” Chestnut said. “We are partnered with a job corps center training program and have been able to train three young men from ages 19-21 to do everything from lubricating the device to data collection. These individuals have a key role in the maintenance of the device and will continue to be involved with the two additional Bandalongs once they are installed.”
In 2009, the Bandalong Litter Trap’s first year in operation, the device collected over three tons (more than 6,000 pounds) of floating litter and debris. Reports by GWARDC shows that from the time they took over maintenance in mid-March to late July, the device had removed over 3,000 pounds of floating litter and debris from the Watts Branch tributary. In the first five months, GWARDC collected, on average, 692.2 pounds of floating litter and debris each month.
The social, economic, and environmental benefits of installing the Bandalong Litter Trap are evident and GWARDC looks forward to maximizing the device’s potential.
“The Bandalong has really helped us reach and educate more people so we are anxious to get these additional units installed,” Chestnut said. “This technology is the most efficient system because not only does it clean our river very well, but it has allowed us to get the message out to so many folks.”
For more information on Groundwork Anacostia River DC, please visit http://www.groundworkdc.org/