Deer Park Water, a popular bottled-water brand, launched a new campaign to promote plastic bottle recycling in this region.

Following its Baltimore debut, the brand’s traveling exhibition, housed in a tractor trailer, visited various District locations, beginning with Georgetown and then local Safeway outlets, including the 6500 Piney Branch Road.

The trailer was designed with full-length transparent sides to entice curious passersby to come aboard and, with the use of modestly-sized exhibits, learn how discarded plastic can be transformed into new consumer products such as garments and automobile parts.

After seeing the exhibit, Aaron Stewart, 15, seemed enthused. “It’s very creative to take used things and change them into usable things.”

In its publicity accompanying the brief campaign, Deer Park, a division of Nestles international food empire, trumpeted its partnership with the nonprofit Keep America Beautiful to, in the words of Deer Park Sustainability Director Michael Washburn, “…help double U.S. recycling rates for all plastic beverage bottles to 60 percent by 2018.”

At the Safeway parking lot, however, few shoppers entered to learn about any of this, although young people seemed to appreciate and understand the exhibit’s guiding goal and direction.

“I’m trying to live on the world as long as possible and can’t if everyone is littering,” said 16-year-old, Marquell Hall. His comment seemed most prophetic, considering the frequently cited fact that huge quantities of discarded plastic debris are estimated to take 500 years to biodegrade. Recyclable litter is having a disastrous and possibly irreversible impact on the world’s oceans, where it kills or cripples any sea creature that accidentally ingests it.

Closer to home, the “Protect the Anacostia River Cleanup Fund” stated on the group’s website that 20,000 tons of trash enters the Anacostia River each year, and that ”plastic bags, styrofoam, snack wrappers, bottles and cans” had been identified by the Department of Environment as making up 85 percent of this trash.

The District’s recycling diversion rate of 21 percent is comparable to that of other east coast cities and is ranked 24th among the 50 largest cities, based on the 2010 Census. As part of its recycling strategies, the District has:

-The Solid Waste Education and Enforcement Program (SWEEP) responsible for sanitation education and enforcement, and a variety of services to District residents to combat illegal dumping, clean up vacant lots and support neighborhood clean-ups

-A no tolerance position toward illegal dumping initiative that offers up to a $500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of each illegal dumper.

-Helping Hand/Neighborhood Clean-Up Projects to help community groups organize neighborhood clean-up projects through the Helping Hand Program.

Although the D.C. Department of Public Works does not stratify its customer base by race, income status or cultural groups, it did produce a study that provided geographical information about recycling that showed significant differences in recycling by neighborhoods. Landlords are beginning to require their tenants to recycle by making it a provision of the lease. Business property owners may be cited for not having licensed trash and recycling haulers or not having frequent enough solid waste collections.

“The District of Columbia continues to lag behind other progressive jurisdictions in recycling,” Councilwoman Mary Cheh said as she accepted the Potomac Champion Award from the Alice Ferguson Foundation, Oct. 19, at its annual Potomac Watershed Trash Summit. “We have to be innovative and creative about using new strategies to change this. I know of no force greater than young people to enlist in doing so.”

The District’s schools have several innovative recycling educational programs and ongoing projects.

The D.C. Office of Recycling and Urban Services, Inc., along with the help of each school, provides outdoor containers to schools that are interested in recycling. The Department of Public Works, Solid Waste Education and Enforcement Program has been providing education through Students Working on Environmental and Educational Partnerships (SWEEP Jr.) and the Polyethylene Terephthalate Initiative (PET) School Recycling Pilot Project.

Participating schools are provided with recycling bins, promotional flyers, and the opportunity for an assembly presentation as outreach for the project.

SWEEP, JR provides an array of approaches to educate and provide concrete steps children can take to positively affect their environment.

Researcher DeRutter Jones contributed to this article.


Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO