2 DC-area residents cleaning up local waterways during lockdown

Advocates for Clean and Clear Waterways say they have pulled over 100 bags of trash out of Hunting Creek so far, and aim to pull another 100 before the job is finished. (Courtesy Waterway Advocates)

Two D.C.-area residents have launched a charitable organization dedicated to cleaning up local waterways amid stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic.

Up first for Advocates for Clean and Clear Waterways: cleaning up Hunting Creek.

Caleb Merendino and Ben Swanson, the pair behind the group, said they’ve pulled 110 bags of garbage out of the creek over the past six days and will need another 100 bags to finish the cleanup.

They decided to trace where the trash was coming from, and they said their search led them to the Alexandria Recycling Center off Eisenhower Avenue.

Once inside, the duo took a video of the conditions. In it, a tractor is seen moving around mulch in an area next to recycling bins. There’s trash in between the rows of bins. Conditions are the same for the area between the last row of bins and a fence that surrounds the property.

The camera closes in on holes in the fence and areas where the trash appears to wash out under the fence and down a hill that leads right into the waterway and, eventually, into the Potomac River.

Merendino and Swanson said they have notified the city of Alexandria about the trash problem.

City of Alexandria spokesman Craig T. Fifer disputed the claim that the Eisenhower Avenue drop-off facility was the source of the trash in Hunting Creek.

In an email, Fifer said the city has seen an increase in trash and recycling since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with residents shopping from home more often. He said with curbside collection limited to the contents in city-provided bins and the suspension of bulk, metal and yard waste collections, “our drop-off facilities have also had large increases in volume.”

With cardboard shipping boxes and food takeout containers filling bins faster, Fifer said, “we are seeing a significant increase in illegal dumping at our recycling drop-off centers” with nonrecyclables and other items, even while the centers are closed, contributing to more litter on the nearby pavement.

He directly addressed the video Merendino and Swanson shot and posted on YouTube, saying that the litter shown in it had not been there long and had already been cleaned up. With added resources at the drop-off facilities, Fifer said cleaning happens at least five days per week.

He added, “We inspected the damage to the fence promptly, and repairs have already been made. We have also inspected the area around the fence, and we are confident that the facility is not a major source of pollution in waterways.”

Fifer also said, “Hunting Creek receives water (and debris in the water) from the entire Potomac River watershed, so trash found in the Potomac River and Hunting Creek is generally from upstream of Alexandria.”

The cleanup appears to be the first effort for Merendino and Swanson at Advocates for Clean and Clear Waterways. They launched their effort in the last month.

They plan to lead more pollution cleanup efforts in local communities, they say on their website.

More information, along with video and pictures, can be found on the group’s Facebook page or website.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments from the city of Alexandria received Friday, May 1. 

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