Montgomery County, Maryland’s most populous county, is making great strides in reducing trash pollution. Because 30 percent of the Anacostia River watershed is within the county, the Department of Environmental Protection has several programs to meet their federal obligation to remove trash from the river.
In 2011, the County Council passed a Bag Law. Similar to the law in Washington, DC, the law requires stores to charge 5 cents for each plastic and paper bag distributed at checkout. The charge encourages shoppers to use reusable bags, and it’s working: Stream cleanups in the county show a 72 percent decrease in the amount of plastic bags found! When a shopper chooses to use a disposable bag, four cents of the fee goes to the county’s water quality improvement fund, to support projects to reduce stormwater and trash pollution.
In 2015, the County Council passed a ban on polystyrene foam food packaging. The law took effect in January 2016 and bans all clamshells, plates, cups, and other foam packaging–including packing peanuts–from restaurants and retail stores. Foam comprises a quarter to 40 percent of the volume of trash removed from the Anacostia River, and (because it breaks down into tiny pieces) it is extremely challenging to remove. Further, polystyrene absorbs chemicals at 10 times the rate of any other type of plastic, making the tiny pieces even more toxic to marine life that mistake it for food.
The county has also been a long-time partner in the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s litter prevention education campaign, posting public service advertisements in bus shelters and other locations around the county.