By Brent Bolin
Director of Advocacy, Anacostia Watershed Society
Cross-posted from www.anacostiaws.org
The Anacostia River is so severely impacted by trash that in 2007 it was declared impaired by trash under the provisions of the Clean Water Act. Only the second river in the country to be so designated, and the first multi-jurisdictional river (Maryland and DC), in 2010 a trash TMDL, or pollution diet, was issued that requires Anacostia jurisdictions to reduce the amount of trash entering the river.
At the end of 2008 AWS released a scientific study of trash in the Anacostia River. One of the key findings of this study was that 33% of the trash in the tidal river was plastic bags, while nearly 50% of the trash in tributary streams was plastic bags.
|Plastic bags snagged along the Northwest Branch in Chillum, MD|
The only truly sustainable way to deal with trash in our waterways is to reduce litter at the source — AWS and volunteers can’t be expected to hold trash clean-ups forever, and even trash traps only capture a portion of the trash in a waterway (and also require time and effort to maintain). For this reason AWS supports sensible policy changes that reduce trash at the source, such as DC’s bag bill.
The DC bag bill is seen as a model trash reduction policy because of its simplicity and effectiveness. Assessing a 5-cent fee on disposable carryout bags, the bag bill creates an incentive for consumers to bring their own reusable bags to the store — if you don’t take the store’s bags, you don’t pay! As a result of this policy:
- DC has seen an estimated 80% reduction in bag use — from 270 million bags in 2009 to 55 million bags in 2010
- Alice Ferguson Foundation reported polling data on the impact of DC’s bag bill — 78% of businesses reported either positive or no impact to their business and 75% of DC residents reported using fewer single-use plastic bags
There is no such thing as a free bag — instead the cost of purchasing bags is passed on to the consumer via higher prices. AWS estimates the “hidden cost” of bags at $15 – $37.50 yearly for each Marylander. The bag bill is pro consumer because it exposes this hidden cost and allows the customer to avoid it. Unlike a tax, the bag fee can avoided — if you don’t want to pay the bag fee, you never have to!
|Bags along roadside vegetation in Hyattsville, MD|
Montgomery County has already followed DC’s lead and enacted a bag program, and it is time for Prince George’s County to do the same – it will help the county meet trash TMDL obligations, clean up our waterways, and generate funds for water quality propection.
How you can help
For complicated reasons involving the county’s charter from the state, Prince George’s County must receive authorization from the General Assembly in order to enact a bag fee program. Fortunately, the County Executive and several members of County Council are interested in the bag bill and they are seeking that authorization in the form of a local bill in the General Assembly. Prince George’s County spends $2.5 million annually on litter clean-up and a bag bill would help reduce a major source of litter in our communities.
Please consider supporting the bill by attending the local hearing this Saturday, December 3, 9AM, at Queen Anne’s Theater, Prince George’s County Community College, Largo, MD. The bag fee authorization bill is number PG 402-12. Even if you aren’t sure how you feel about a bag fee program, this decision should be made by the county council and not by state delegates so please urge your legislators to support home rule for Prince George’s County by enacting PG 402-12.