Earthjustice Supports Plastic Bag Bill to Clean Anacostia River

Proposed fee would slash amount of trash entering river annually


Raviya Ismail, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500, ext. 237 

District of Columbia Councilmember Tommy Wells has proposed legislation in the district that would help to reduce the volume of paper and plastic grocery bags that enters the city’s Anacostia River. Earthjustice, an environmental law firm actively engaged in efforts to clean the Anacostia River, is pleased with Councilmember Wells’ proposal and supports initiatives by the council to help clean up the river.

“The Anacostia River is inundated with a stunning amount of trash pollution. Plastic bags — which disintegrate into small toxic bits that don’t biodegrade for 1,000 years — are a major culprit, and help to choke the life out of this river,” said Earthjustice attorney Jennifer Chavez.  “District residents already pay for the consequences of plastic bags, through public dollars that fund trash removal and through the continued harm to their rivers. Other cities are moving to restrict or ban plastic bags, and it’s time the nation’s capital follows their lead.”

An estimated 20,000 tons of trash falls into the Anacostia River every year and plastic bags and other non-recyclable items comprise 85 percent of the trash, by some estimates. Plastic bags alone make up an estimated 40 percent of the entire volume of trash pulled out of the river.

Nearly two years ago, San Francisco became the first city in the nation to ban hard-to-recycle plastic bags. That move has reportedly translated to 5 million fewer bags used a month. Recently a 20-cent plastic bag fee went into effect in Seattle at grocery, drug and convenient stores and in New York City, Mayor Bloomberg introduced a fee on plastic bag usage. Elsewhere, Palo Alto, CA officials will be voting on a 25-cent fee on plastic bags next month and San Diego is working toward a plastic bag ban. Several other cities including Boston, Portland and Phoenix have considered banning plastic bags entirely or imposing a tax.

The District’s water quality standards require all D.C. rivers to free from floating trash, a mandate that is constantly violated due to the large volumes of plastic bags and other litter that typically litter the Anacostia’s surface. “By taking action to reduce the amount of plastic bags, the council could signal a stronger commitment to achieving real pollution reductions and helping to keeping our waters clean,” added Chavez.  “Much more needs to be done to make the Anacostia and other D.C. waters fishable and swimmable, but adoption of this proposal would be an important step forward.” 

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