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Group Works to Reduce Holiday Trash, Clean Environment


The Alice Ferguson Foundation is a non-profit group that works to improve the environment by building relationships between people and nature.

The foundation is based in the state of Maryland. It was created more than 50 years ago. It teaches people ways to protect the environment.

At the end of the year, it designs events to help children celebrate Christmas without increasing the amount of waste they create.

Hanna Seligmann works for the foundation. VOA joined Seligmann recently during one of her talks.

“So let’s figure out what is in our bag of trash.”

She shows adults and children how to reduce waste during the holiday gift-giving season.

“You can sort it as a cardboard item or you can sort it as a plastic item.”

Seligmann works with volunteers.

“We encourage using things that are already in your house like newspaper, old magazines, using a gift within a gift. You can wrap something in a reusable napkin, wrap something in a scarf, or a shawl or even a reusable tote bag.”

Urging people to recycle is important in the Washington, D.C., area. It is home to the Potomac River, one of the most famous rivers in the country.

The river is 652 kilometers long. It begins in the mountains of West Virginia, goes through Maryland and Virginia and ends in the Chesapeake Bay. About 5 million people live near the river. That means a lot of waste can enter the river and the bay, which is important to fisheries.

Seligmann says the amount of waste created increases during the holidays.

“We found out that from Thanksgiving Day to New Year’s day, the household trash increases by 25 percent.”

Many young people do not know how much waste enters the river until they help to clean it up.

Lori Arguelles is the executive director for environmental education at the Alice Ferguson Foundation.

“Over time we realized that really just doing trash cleanups was the symptom of the problem, not getting to the root cause. And so it was just a little over a decade ago that we started the initiative itself.”

The Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative is an effort by the Alice Ferguson Foundation to support clean agricultural methods. It includes educational programs at an environmental center on the foundation’s farm.

Programs teach children about the kinds of pollution that can enter the watershed. These include plant and farm waste and trash from homes.

One activity is called the Trash Timeline Game. It teaches children that the things they throw away do not decompose, or break down, at the same rate.

For example, paper dissolves in about four weeks. An apple core takes two months to break down. A metal can takes up to 100 years. Some things that become trash take a very long time to break down. A plastic bag will not decompose for 450 years. Glass takes 1,000 years. And, they say, Styrofoam never dissolves.

Hanna Seligmann says Styrofoam is banned because of its ability to hold toxic, or poisonous substances.

“This is the most toxic form of plastic. And the reason why it's so dangerous is ‘cause when it's out floating in the water it absorbs all the other toxins in the water. So now what we’ve done to prevent that is the Anacostia River Watershed has banned Styrofoam.”

Young people taking part in the program learn that reducing waste is important not just during the holidays, but every day of the year.

I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.

VOA Correspondent Faiza Elmasry reported this story from Accokeek, Maryland. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the report for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

sort – v. to separate and put (people or things) in a particular order

encourage – v. to make (something) more appealing or more likely to happen

scarf – m. a long piece of cloth that is worn on your shoulders, around your neck, or over your head

shawl – n. a piece of cloth that is used especially by women as a covering for the head or shoulders

tote bag – n. a large bag used for carrying things

symptom – n. a change which shows that something bad exists; a sign of something bad

root cause – n. the cause or source of something

decade – n. a ten-year period

initiative – n. a plan or program that is intended to solve a problem

watershed – n. a line of hills or mountains from which rivers drain; a ridge between two rivers

decompose – v. to cause something (such as dead plants and the bodies of dead animals) to be slowly destroyed and broken down by natural processes, chemicals, etc.

rate – n. the speed at which something happens over a particular period of time

Styrofoam – n. trademarked name used for a type of light and usually white plastic

toxin – n. a poisonous substance, especially one that is produced by a living thing

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