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Middle school could win litter-prevention ad contest

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Published on: Wednesday, July 10, 2013

By Tauren Dyson

Organizers at the Hard Bargain Farm in Accokeek have merged technology and nature to get the word out in an anti-littering campaign.

The Alice Ferguson Foundation announced a contest in early April to see who could produce the best YouTube litter prevention video. The winner’s video will be used in a televised public service announcement for the Regional Litter Prevention Campaign.

“The goal of the YouTube contest was really to engage a whole new audience in helping us not only tell the story of litter, the pervasive problem of trash in the Potomac Watershed, but also to help spark submissions,” Lori Arguelles, Alice Ferguson Foundation executive director. “To engage creative minds of all ages.”

Five finalists remain. The finalists represent various ages, backgrounds and jurisdictions that lie along the watershed. The group that leads the pack hails from Prince George’s County.

Walker Mill Middle School in Capitol Heights, the only Prince George’s County finalist, has drawn 173 votes from viewers – 29 more votes than the second place team — and is expected to win the contest after the voting deadline arrives Friday.

The winning team will also win a $1,000 prize.

The Walker Mill Middle “Green Team” produced a slick, fast-paced video with multiple layers of hip-hop inspired music and a mix of still cuts blended with moving video of the children carrying large bags of trash. In the middle of the video a young student in one scene stares down at a piece of trash and says, “Your litter hits so close to home,” a required tagline for all video entrants.

Officials at Alice Ferguson understand the importance of engaging young people about litter prevention. To inform young minds, the foundation hosts the Trash-Free School program, which seeks to “create an active and environmentally-aware school culture by increasing participation and engagement among the school body.”

When Laura Chamberlin, Alice Ferguson Foundation program manager, approached Walker Mill about instituting a litter prevention program, she learned the school already had one. So it only made sense that Walker Mill entered the YouTube contest.

“We have a litter prevention campaign that works to try to change littering behavior,” Chamberlin said. “One of those pieces is public education.”

After three years of research, Chamberlin said the foundation decided a YouTube contest would be a good way to ignite interest in litter prevention behaviors.

“In this day of social media, we felt we needed something more than billboards and posters,” she said.

While organizers and participants show great enthusiasm about the contest, the videos are not the end result, but only the beginning of Alice Ferguson’s awareness campaign.

The foundation has also launched the Trash Free Potomac Network, a database list of volunteer organizations dedicated to cleaning up trash along the watershed. Arguelles said the foundation wants to change the bad habits of adults but knows how hard that can be. So, reaching out to children, who have yet to form those bad habits, is a strong point of emphasis in litter prevention.

“It’s easier to create a good habit than it is to undo a bad habit,” Arguelles said. “If we’re ever going to be successful in truly stopping this pervasive problem of trash, we must get at the heart of behavior change.”

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