Life on the Potomac River: The “SUP Garbage Man”

As of late July, Wright estimates he has collected more than 1,600 cubic feet of trash off the Potomac.

Joe Wright. Photograph by Arielle Bader.

He’s come across orange construction cones, child car seats, Nerf darts, syringes.

“It’s shocking the amount of trash out there,” says Joe Wright about the Potomac. He should know: Four or five days a week, he slides his standup paddleboard, or SUP, onto the river and goes to pick up garbage.

Wright, who lives in Alexandria near Fort Hunt, start-ed scooping trash from the river in May 2019. “One day, I was paddling and saw something white floating in the middle of the river. It was a couple of Styrofoam containers tied in a plastic bag. I grabbed it. Then I came across a spot where the current had brought in a lot of trash. So I thought, Tomorrow, I’ll come with a milk crate and pick this stuff up.By the third day, I thought, I need to show people what’s out there. So I started an Instagram account.”

As of late July, Wright estimates he has collected more than 1,600 cubic feet of trash off the Potomac, but he has plucked more than that in his life. When he was a child, his mother made it a game for him and his sister to pick up trash on walks.

Despite the debris, Wright, who is in his late thirties, loves the river.

“I find a certain freedom in the middle of water,” he says. “The road noise drowns away, you can hear birds. I’m out there away from everything.”

This article initially appeared in our September, 2020 issue. To view the entire guide to the Potomac, click here.

Executive Editor

Sherri Dalphonse joined Washingtonian in 1986. She is the editor in charge of such consumer topics as travel, fitness, health, finance, and beauty, as well as the editor who handles such cover stories as Great Places to Work, Best of Washington, Day Trips, Hidden Gems, Top Doctors, and Great Small Towns. She lives in DC.