Our Work


Photo: ©Philip Bogdan

Working to stop problems at the source

For years, we’ve been writing letters, lobbying local legislators and Fairfax County officials and testifying in favor of policies that would reduce litter.

Not until the 2020 session did we see success.

In 2017, Friends of Little Hunting Creek teamed up with Friends of Accotink Creek, the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment, Fairfax 350, and other groups to form the Northern Virginia Trash Action Work Force.

After first talking, writing, and trying to engage with polite requests, we demonstrated at the headquarters of the International Bottled Water Association, which lobbies against bottle deposits and other laws and policies that might reduce beveragecontainer litter. They had successfully lobbied the Trump administration in 2017 to drop a ban on the sale of water in disposable bottles in national parks.

Just what the country needs! More water bottle litter in its national parks.  We wrote a letter to the Post complaining about it.  We invited IBWA employees to participate in one of our cleanups.  They never showed up.

Fairfax County Anti-Litter Initiatives

Operation Stream Shield

In Fall 2019, the county began a Litter Removal Pilot Project, which was so successful it was extended for five years. (Operations were suspended for several months due to the pandemic, but resumed in Fall 2020.)

The program provides part-time, temporary work to guests of county shelters. Participants earn $10 an hour to pick up litter in and around streams and to remove invasive plants. This project is a win-win—it helps improve water quality in streams as well as provide dignity in work to people experiencing homelessness. The team of up to 10 people is out working every weekday, so they can pull a lot of trash out of streams. It has made a tremendous difference in the amount of trash we see floating downstream in Little Hunting Creek. For more information, visit here.

Trash Trap on Little Hunting Creek

During rain events floating litter, primarily plastic bottles, bags, and food containers (also known as “floatables” or “gross solids”) washes into storm drains from streets and sidewalks and enters the creek, where it is either deposited on flood plains or enters the Potomac River. As part of larger countywide initiatives to reduce litter in streams, Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services installed a Bandalong Litter Trap  in Little Hunting Creek near Richmond Highway, behind Mount Vernon Plaza, in April of 2020 as part of a pilot study.

As shown in the photo, the  trap floats on the surface of the stream and captures floating litter as it moves downstream for periodic removal and disposal.

The trash trap, doing its job

Legislative Progress

After years of our legislators introducing, and FOLHC testifying to support, bills to address the problems of litter, 2020 finally saw significant success. Bills were passed and signed into law to:

Increase the litter tax

This minimal tax on each 7-11 and other establishments that sell groceries, soft drinks, or beer, funds anti-litter programs. It has never been increased since it was enacted in 1987. Now the annual tax will be increased from $25 to $50.

Allow certain localities to make it illegal to abandon shopping carts

The law allows Fairfax County to give notice to a shopping cart owner (e.g., Walmart) when a cart is found off its premises, requiring the owner to retrieve the cart within 14 days. If the owner fails to retrieve the cart, Fairfax County could retrieve and dispose of the cart and charge the owner for the costs to do so.

Hard to say which was the heavier lift – Senator Surovell finally getting his abandoned shopping cart bill passed by the General Assembly and signed into law, or pulling shopping carts out of the creek. Fairfax County has yet to adopt an ordinance to implement the law.

Impose a 5 cent tax on certain disposable plastic bags

Retailers must impose a 5 cent tax on disposable plastic bags (some bags, such as those used for meat and produce, are exempt). The retailer retains a portion of the tax, and the rest goes to the locality, and must be used for environmental cleanup, educational programs to reduce environmental waste, mitigating pollution and litter, or providing reusable bags to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) recipients.

The Friends of Little Hunting Creek thank our local representatives, especially Senator Scott Surovell, Senator Adam Ebbin, Delegate Paul Krizek, and Delegate Alfonso Lopez, for tirelessly pursuing bills to address the litter problem in Little Hunting Creek, and Northern Virginia.

We need your help!

All of our efforts depend on our network of volunteers. Join us to make an impact on the creek.

Want to see more legislative action with regard to litter and conservation? Learn how you can help us with our advocacy efforts.

Join Us!

Friends of Little Hunting Creek is a grassroots, volunteer-led organization that began as a group of genuinely concerned neighbors living near the creek. We need your help to protect this beautiful place – join us today!

Our vision is a beautiful, healthy creek that supports wildlife living in it and along its shores, and provides recreation and respite to humans that live nearby. We envision a shared sense of community responsibility for the health of the Little Hunting Creek watershed and appreciation for its beauty.

Photo: ©Philip Bogdan