It’s All About the Energy

The following post was written by our guest blogger, Veronica Kim. Veronica is an upcoming senior at Durham Academy writing about her experiences as a volunteer with Keep Durham Beautiful throughout the summer. 

Annabella Gong, a senior at Durham Academy and leader of the school's Go Green Club

Annabella Gong, a senior at Durham Academy and leader of the school’s Go Green Club

Every Monday morning at Durham Academy, students have the opportunity to make announcements to their peers, whether it be about clubs, sports teams, or anything in between. This year, Annabella Gong, a spirited senior with short hair and a huge voice, took the podium. Gong, leader of the Go Green Club at DA, began the announcement that would eventually become a running joke among the student body: “Please recycle your water bottles, but first, please take your caps off the bottles! The caps are non-recyclable and need to be thrown in the trash.”

After that first announcement, it was gradually shortened to the following scene: Gong sprinting her way down the auditorium aisle to be the first at the podium, a ripple of laughter through the students and teachers as she grinned knowingly at them, and a quick Remember to take your caps off your water bottles before you recycle them! Thanks guys before going to sit back down.

This little episode, although now outdated – since companies have begun to recycle water bottles with caps still intact – is just one example of Gong’s dedication to environmental conservation at DA.

Gong not only started this weekly tradition-of-sorts but fiercely upheld her passions for recycling elsewhere. Every Wednesday, a different DA advisory completes recycling, where the students collect the waste from each recycling bin on campus and consolidate it into three massive containers. It is a messy, unforgiving job that involves many soggy papers, half-empty soda cans, and, of course, the constant need to unscrew the caps from water bottles that have been discarded without regard for proper recycling protocol. However, every Wednesday without fail, Gong and her fellow Go Green Club leaders could be found working tirelessly alongside the advisory members, unscrewing lids, dumping out excess liquids, smiles on their faces.

When Gong was asked about what drove this indefatigable love for the environment, she responded: “I’ve always cared for the environment. I come from a family that is very environmentally conscious… my dad owns a garden, we compost… it’s just a personal interest of mine.” Environmental protection is a topic that has recently been brought to the forefront of public awareness through Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change. Gong shares her views as well; for her, it is not a very two-sided debate. “Sustainability is the one issue that holds no ambiguities… either you protect Mother Nature, or you unnecessarily suffocate your future,” she says.

In fact, Gong went beyond the recycling norm, expanding the Go Green Club at DA to include a new program called TerraCycle®. TerraCycle® is a nationwide initiative that collects hard-to-recycle materials, such as granola bar wrappers, chip bags, shoes, and plastic cups, and upcycles them to create an array of products (including backpacks, park benches, fences, etc). At the beginning of second semester, the Go Green Club gave a presentation on TerraCycle®, and Gong announced that a plethora of small boxes would be scattered around the campus so that students could easily and conveniently TerraCycle® their waste. Since the TerraCycle® program consists of many different categories (after all, sneakers cannot be easily upcycled alongside toothbrushes), DA would primarily be TerraCycling® granola bar wrappers and chip bags, two things that abound on a high school campus.

The TerraCycle® program exploded (for lack of a better term) at DA. Gong puts it this way: “We were just giving it a shot… at first people were like, ‘Oh, this is pretty cool,’ but then we really started to accumulate a ton of waste. By the end of five months we had over a thousand wrappers.” Not only were students actively involved in the TerraCycle® program, they were helpful and friendly towards members of the Go Green Club who were making it happen. “People… would always be happy and encouraging when they saw me,” recalls Gong.

Gong was honored at DA’s Magnificent Seven assembly in April, which celebrates seven outstanding individuals who have made a lasting impression on the DA community. She won the award for “caring for the environment and property” almost unanimously. When the Upper School director stood up to present the award, nearly everybody in the audience had already guessed its recipient.

Perhaps the reason that the Go Green Club flourished this year was due to Gong’s incredible, authentic love for the practices that she preached. “I’m a loud person, and I get really excited about things easily, and infusing that energy into Go Green Club helped elevate it to a more active, known component of campus life,” she says.

When asked about how other schools can work to implement more effective recycling programs, Gong said, “People are open to recycling, they just might hesitate in participating in these initiatives because they don’t entirely understand their value and purpose. It’s important to help them understand why you should recycle, and from there, people will do it.” She stresses that a successful recycling program cannot survive under the guidance of just a few people: “There’s more of an impact [in] having the entire school involved.”

But what is the most important part about leading such a prosperous recycling initiative? “You need someone who is very vocal… who is not afraid to embarrass themselves over something that he or she is very passionate about. I was just really passionate about recycling; people noticed, and then they got jazzed up to participate as well,” explains Gong. “Keep it fun and enjoyable… that is the most effective way to get the message across.”

Her closing statement, though, was a lot more personal. She acknowledged the recognition she received for her leadership in Go Green Club, but also admitted that it was unusual. “I’m very blessed to have been recognized,” she said. “Personal recognition helps encourage me to continue doing what I’m doing, but as long as the environment is making progress and people enjoy doing it, I am very happy.”

To learn more about the TerraCycle® program, visit:

The Litter Index is Step One

We are excited to introduce our guest blogger, Veronica Kim. Veronica is an upcoming senior at Durham Academy who will be writing about her experiences as a volunteer with Keep Durham Beautiful throughout the summer. 

Litter Index 2015

Keep Durham Beautiful volunteers helped assess roadside litter levels and community appearance measures for the 11th annual Durham Litter Index on June 11, 2015.

It’s surprising, really, the amount of trash that you can see on the side of the road, if only you’re looking carefully enough.

And the participants of the 11th annual Keep Durham Beautiful Litter Index were certainly looking very carefully. On June 11, over twenty volunteers set off for five different corners of Durham, armed with clipboards and charts and the occasional bagel. I was skeptical. I had just learned the litter assessment scale (ranging from one to four, with one meaning “no litter” and four meaning “extremely littered”) and was more than a little nervous that my litter assessment abilities would not be up to par.

Not to worry. The Litter Index volunteers are experienced, passionate members of the community, coming out each year to sweep the Durham streets in their trusty white vans (donated for our use by University Ford). It is a demanding job, with seventy-five zones that need to be inspected. Yet even at 8:30 in the morning, they are ready to go, coffee in hand and pencil at the ready.

In my van, there are shouts of “I just saw five junked cars on the side of the road!” and “Please drive slower, I need to make sure I catch every piece of litter that I can.” I am awed by the amounts of waste that dot the sides of the roads and the treeline – I’ve never noticed it before.

In a state where we throw away nearly twelve billion tons of trash every year, the Litter Index needs to spot every aluminum can, every paper cup, every hamburger wrapper. At first glance, it does not seem like a grueling job. I told my friends, We drove around and assessed the trash on the sides of the roads, and they said, Wait, you didn’t even clean it up? You just looked at it? But without the Litter Index, there would be no litter cleanup. It clears the way for more organized cleanup opportunities, and focuses this effort in areas that have been rated higher on the scale. The places that receive a score of one will not require much organized effort. On the other hand, “four” areas can require a large-scale effort and even machine equipment to remove litter, which takes a lot of advance planning to achieve.

This is how the Litter Index helps. It is not just a bunch of people with nothing better to do on a Thursday, driving around and pointing out all of the straw wrappers that they see in the grass. It opens the doors to a much larger process. It is a program run by Keep Durham Beautiful, and it provides the first step to doing just that.

Here is a statistic I read the other day: North Carolinians throw away enough trash every year to circle the planet twice. That is more than fifty thousand miles worth of waste.

It makes you think. On a grass-lined road, I marked down my first “one” of the day. In this zone, I saw a single Styrofoam cup, and I wished I could reach out and pluck it from the ground. The sun blinked and yawned, not yet fully awake.

This world, and our small corner of it, will continue to spin, regardless of how many popsicle sticks we throw out our car windows. But we will not always be able to recognize the beauty of a summer morning, when the birds usher in the dawn, when the sky seems to melt into puddles on your shoulders. Unless we realize – this Earth, this planet, this is our little miracle. We would do well to protect it.  

We would like to thank University Ford for their generous donation of the vans used for the Litter Index and Republic Services for providing lunch for Keep Durham Beautiful volunteers. 

Want to learn more about the Litter Index? Find more information and volunteer registration for the 2016 Keep Durham Beautiful Litter and Community Appearance Index here

To see more pictures from the 2015 Litter Index, please visit our Flickr page.



Rising litter Levels Threaten Durham’s Progress

Litter Index

Keep Durham Beautiful volunteers Butch Fisher, Rhonda Spivey, Michael Crutchfield, Rhonda Crutchfield and David Harris prepare to conduct the 2013 Community Appearance and Litter Index in a van provided by University Ford.

You may not have noticed, but Durham has a fair amount of litter. Our streets, schools, parks, and neighborhoods are filled with trash from cigarette butts to bottles, cans, plastic bags, and even items like car tires and shoes.

“First impressions are the lasting impressions,” said David Harris, a former Keep Durham Beautiful Board Member and long-time volunteer with the Durham Community Litter Index. “The appearance of the gateways into our city is what visitors see and develop first opinions about Durham.”
As Durhamites, we have a lot of pride. There is exciting energy here in the Bull City. Durham is teeming with talented local artists, authors, and the city is a nationally recognized foodie destination. But the phrase, “Keep it Dirty, Durham,” is not intended to be taken literally.
Litter hurts. Litter costs approximately $15 million in taxpayer dollars to clean up each year. Litter reduces tourism, hampers economic development, and encourages vandalism and crime. Litter contaminates our drinking water and is detrimental for plants and wildlife. Litter even causes accidents, with thousands of automobile accidents each year in the U.S. classified as litter-related.

So, what do we do about it?
On June 11th, Keep Durham Beautiful will be spearheading the 11th annual Litter Index and is looking for community members to get involved. Keep Durham Beautiful is a non-profit affiliate of Keep America Beautiful that works in collaboration with the City of Durham and Durham County to engage and inspire individuals to take greater responsibility for their community environment. Keep Durham Beautiful, with the help of dedicated volunteers, has collected data annually on litter levels in the city since 2005.

What is the Litter Index?
Developed by Keep America Beautiful, the Litter Index is a quantitative measure used across the nation to gauge roadside litter levels. Routes throughout the city are scored on a scale from one to four, with a score of one indicating “no litter” and a score of four indicating the area is “extremely littered.” The index is used to determine the effectiveness of litter campaigns and identify litter “hot spots” in the community for future clean ups.
Teams of volunteers receive training before driving along pre-determined routes to monitor the amount of litter along the roads. “Each route includes business/commercial districts and residential communities and consists of urban, suburban, rural and county roads,” said David Harris, who has participated in the Litter Index for the past 10 years, taking on various roles as an evaluator, driver, coordinator, trainer, co-chair, and chair.

Results from the 2014 index indicate that roadside litter has increased in Durham. The average score across all the routes in 2014 was 1.804, up from a score of 1.35 in 2013. These results suggest the need to take action now. Litter is an individual behavior and each of us can do our part to make a difference. From joining a neighborhood cleanup, adopting a street or bus stop, or by modeling good behavior in your home, school, work or neighborhood YOU have the ability to reduce litter and increase litter literacy in this city we love.

If you are interested in joining this year’s Litter Index efforts, please contact or register here. The Litter Index will take place on Thursday, June 11th from 8:30 am – 1 pm at the Forest Hills Neighborhood Clubhouse. Coffee, bagels, and gratitude will be provided for all volunteers.


Durham Joins National Water Conservation Challenge

Residents Encouraged to Take the Pledge During April

DURHAM, N.C. — During the month of April, you can save water, save money, earn prizes and help Durham win the National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation.

Mayor William V. “Bill” Bell and the City’s Water Management Department are encouraging residents to visit to sign up for the Wyland Foundation’s Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation.

The challenge, in its fourth year, is a competition between cities across the United States to see who can be the most water-wise. Mayors and civic leaders are challenging their residents to conserve water, energy and other natural resources on behalf of their city. Last year, Durham finished in fifth place, and Mayor Bell hopes to beat that ranking this year. “As Durham continues to grow, our water resources will be stretched to meet increases in demand,” Bell said. “By participating in the National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, residents can pledge to make Durham a more sustainable community both now and in the future.”

Cities with the highest percentage of participants are entered for a chance to win hundreds of environmentally friendly prizes, including a Toyota Prius Plug-In, water-saving fixtures and gift certificates. Residents can also visit for more information and ideas for saving water.

Connect with the Creek Festival – Saturday March 21 2-5pm

Creek Week kickoff event featuring loads of info on local water resources and groups, parade with Bulltown Strutters and Northeast Creek Streamwatch costumes and puppets, creek art from local schools, painted rain cisterns for auction, a scavenger hunt, Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association painted creek, Frog Hollow Outdoors class raffle, and Pie Pushers and Dusty Donuts food trucks! Durham Central Park at 501 Foster Street in Durham, NC.

To see all Creek Week Events, visit

To join the event on Facebook, visit

Durham’s 2015 Arbor Day at Old West Durham- Sunday March 15, 2015

Celebrating 32 years of recognition as a Tree City USA!

What:              City of Durham 2015 Arbor Day Celebration with Community Tree Planting

Who:               City of Durham General Services Department Urban Forestry Division, Keep Durham Beautiful, Inc., and Trees Across Durham

When:             Sunday, March 15, 2015 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Where:           Old West Durham Neighborhood Streets and West Main Street – Meet at Greystone Baptist Church Parking Lot, 2601 Hillsborough Road, Durham

Fast Facts:

  • Old West Durham has historically benefitted from a robust tree canopy, but many trees are nearing the end of their lives and the canopy is declining. City staff and neighbors have identified numerous locations suitable for tree planting. Involving the community in planting and caring for the trees is an important component to restore and protect the trees in this urban landscape.
  • This annual celebration of Durham’s trees is free and open to the public. Activities are suitable for all ages and tools are provided for participants. Activities for volunteers include:
  • Community tree planting of 100 trees along the neighborhood streets of Old West Durham. Trees are provided by the City’s General Services Department Urban Forestry Division, Old West Durham Neighborhood Association, and Keep Durham Beautiful.
  • Tree seedling giveaway and educational table displays, where attendees can choose from 11 varieties of seedlings and receive guidance on tree selection and planting from Durham County Master Gardener volunteers. Tree seedlings, along with information about the benefits of trees and tree care, are provided courtesy of the Durham City-County Sustainability Office and Keep Durham Beautiful.
  • For additional information, or to volunteer for this community tree planting event, email or call (919) 354-2729 or 919-672-6682.

Durham E-Waste Recycling & Shredding Event January 17

Free & Convenient Event Open to All Durham Residents & Businesses

Durham residents and businesses waiting for the next free opportunity to recycle electronic waste, shred confidential documents, and safely dispose of their Christmas trees should plan to attend the E-Waste Recycling and Paper Shredding Event next month.

The event will be held Saturday, January 17, 2015, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the visitor side of the Durham County Memorial Stadium, 750 Stadium Dr., Durham. Event staff will be on hand to unload old electronics and paper.

The event, co-sponsored by the City of Durham’s Solid Waste Management Department, Sonoco Recycling, Shred Ace, Synergy Recycling and Durham County Government, will accept nearly all electronic devices with a cord, including: •  Computers, laptops, keyboards, mice, printers, monitors, speakers, copiers, scanners, circuit boards, hard drives, computer parts, etc. •  Televisions, stereo equipment, tape players, receivers, amplifiers, record players, etc. •  Kitchen electronics, such as microwaves, mixers, blenders, choppers, etc. •  Telephones, cell phones, and fax machines •  Hair dryers, curling irons, alarm clocks and vacuum cleaner •  Power tools, cordless tools, etc. •  Electronic toys, such as keyboards and video game systems •  This event will not accept large appliances, refrigerators, air conditioners, or any other appliances that contain Freon

Confidential paper shredding will also be provided on site. Requirements for shredding include: •  Paper may contain paper clips and staples; however, hanging file folders will not be accepted. •  Only paper should be brought for shredding; CDs, DVDs, and other non-paper items will not be accepted.  •  All paper should be loose and not in binders or other binding items made of non-paper. •  Residents may be present to observe their confidential document shredding if the amount to be shredded can fit into one 96-gallon roll cart (approximately 240 pounds or approximately eight small, banker boxes of material). •  Participants with larger quantities will have items placed in boxes to be shredded off-site at a secure facility.

Christmas trees will also be accepted at this event. Trees taller than six feet should be cut in half and not placed in bags. Residents should also remove all decorations and hardware, including tinsel, lights, garland, ornaments, nails, and stands.

Durham residents who can’t make this event can still safely and conveniently recycle their old electronics at the City’s Waste Disposal and Recycling Center (Transfer Station), 2115 E. Club Blvd. The facility is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to noon.

For information about items accepted at this event or the City’s recycling facilities, contact Durham One Call at (919) 560-1200 or visit

Want to help the water? Trees, yes. Leaves, no.

Fall is an ideal time to plant trees. Roots that have three seasons to establish before the hot, dry summer give seedlings a promising start.

Trees filter water runoff before it enters the stormwater drainage system. This prevents dirt, nutrients, and bacteria from washing into streams and lakes. Trees also reduce the amount of runoff rushing to creeks in a rain storm.

Trees add value to your property and provide shade, beauty, cleaner air, and wildlife habitat. They can protect your yard from erosion when planted along creek banks. Together with native bushes and grasses, trees act as buffers between pollution sources and waterways.

If trees are so good, why are leaves bad for the water? As leaves decay, nutrients that feed algae enter the water. This reduces oxygen in streams and lakes and can lead to fish kills and bad tasting drinking water.

Streams will always have natural sources of falling leaves. But when too many people sweep or blow yard leaves onto streets, the extra leaves in the drainage system cause a problem.

Doing your part:

  • lists trainings and projects to help keep Durham shady.
  • Keep it neat; no leaves on the street. Compost them or use your yard waste bin.
  • Report illegal leaf dumping: (919) 560-SWIM.
  • Plant trees, bushes, and grasses near stream banks.

Durham Seeks People’s Choice Votes for 2014 Golden Leaf Awards

Residents who think there are certain Durham properties that have outstanding curb appeal are now invited to vote for the properties they like the best.

The Durham City-County Appearance Commission and Keep Durham Beautiful, Inc. are seeking voters for the People’s Choice award for the 2014 Golden Leaf Awards. Properties up for the award include new developments and buildings in Durham that provide positive attributes to the built environment. Homeowners, building owners, architects, landscape architects, developers, realtors and anyone involved in design, planning and construction in Durham have entered projects completed within the last five years for this year’s competition.

Residents are encouraged to visit to review all of the nominated properties and cast their vote for their favorite project. The voting period for the People’s Choice award is open until Tuesday, November 18.

For more information, email or contact Planner Wade Griffin with the Durham City-County Planning Department by email at or by phone at (919) 560-4137, ext. 28229.

Creek Smart Workshop @ Organic Transit

NC Cooperative Extension is co-sponsoring with Ellerbe Creek Association to offer a FREE half-day hands-on rain garden and rain water harvester installation demonstration event:

Creek Smart Workshop @ Organic Transit with optional Elf and walking tours of Creek SmartTM practices. See attached flyer. (tours run Noon-2 pm) for registered participants

When: Saturday, November 8, 2014 – 9am-12noon

Location: 311 W Corporation St., Durham, NC 27701

This hands-on workshop will teach you how to install your own rain garden and rainwater harvesting system that improve your property and protect water quality.

  •  Organic Transit will be offering free test rides to participants!
  •  Ellerbe Creek Assoc. will be offering walking tours of the ‘Creek Smart’ program sites just around the corner from Organic Transit.
  •  Full Steam Brewery is a short walk away for thirsty adults after installing the rain garden and water harvester!

RSVP at or contact