Clean River Will Cost You

Shari Wright | 4/15/2009, 4:45 p.m.

Plastic bags are the largest contributor of trash in the Anacostia. These bags clog the sewage system and can cause harm to the animals in and around the river, according to findings from the Environmental Protection Agency. In response to the findings, Councilmember Tommy Wells of Ward 6 has introduced Bill 18-150, the Anacostia River Clean-Up and Protection Act on Feb. 17, and brought it to the council floor two weeks ago on Apr. 1 for the public hearing.

Councilmember Mary Cheh of Ward 3, a co-sponsor of the B18-150, opened the hearing by describing what drove this bill into place.

€The situation is so bad that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently working on a total maximum daily load for trash in the river. This will allow the EPA to fine the District $32,500 a day that excessive amounts of trash clog the Anacostia.€
The bill€s findings also said, €The widespread provision of carryout bags to consumers creates significant problems relating to their disposal and effect on the environment.€ The press release included a report from the D.C. Department of the Environment that gave specifics on the amount of pollutants that end up in the Anacostia River. €In the river€s tributaries, nearly 50 percent of the trash is plastic bags,€ the report concluded.

During the hearing, there were 98 witnesses, with an overwhelming majority of supporters of this bill. Still, those opposing it presented themselves and their cases, as they waited for nearly six hours and through 75 testimonies for the floor.
€We fully support the effort, we don€t support the means,€ said Shari€ Jackson, Progressive Bag Affiliates Director of the American Chemistry Council, who attended the hearing.

€This method doesn€t encourage a change in litter. People don€t need a tax to do what€s right.€
George Franklin the Director of the Covenant Baptist Food Pantry and the Head of Ward 8 Food Pantry Collaborative spoke at Tuesday€s hearing and is against the bill and the immediate problems that could result.

€I€m worried about how this bill will affect the food pantries,€ Franklin said.

Franklin€s food pantry uses 1,000 plastic bags per month, most of which are donated from church members. The bill would put a five cent tax on every recyclable paper and plastic bag.

€If you have to pay for your bags, you€re likely to keep them, and where does that leave the food pantries, especially those who serve double and three times as many people as us?€ Franklin asked.

According to the report from DC€s DOE, €placing a small fee on €free€ bags could eliminate up to 47 percent of the trash in the tributaries and 21 percent from the river€s main stem.€

Wells has organized the bill so that the five cents would be is split between the retailer and the Anacostia River Clean-up and Protection Fund. One to two cents will remain with the business and all other money will be given to the clean up fund. The opposition feels money should not be involved as a solution in this matter.

€You€re getting into people€s pockets t the worst possible time,€ said Jackson, who is urging the council to consider another option.

€Make recycling in this city work. There is not enough consumer education about bags€"plastic bags are recyclable, cleaner€s bags, product overwrap and film are all recyclable,€ Jackson said. If this bill does become a law, the city would be mandated to host an €intensive public information campaign€ along with an outreach effort that would give away reusable bags for free or at a lesser price.