Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=125673
Story Retrieval Date: 5/19/2013 4:54:34 AM CST
The amount of time it could take to break down a plastic bag
The weight of trash that collects in the Anacostia River in a year
176 square miles
The length of the Anacostia River
Source: Anacostia Watershed Society
WASHINGTON -- If you walk along the Watts Branch of the Anacostia River, you’re likely to run into some trash every few feet and even more likely, you’ll probably see an abandoned plastic bag.
Every year, 20,000 tons of trash filter into the river leaving it dirty, neglected and hazardous, according to a report by the Anacostia Watershed Society. The plastic bags make up about 50 percent of the trash that accumulates in the tributaries. And collectively, bottles, wrappers, Styrofoam and plastic bags make up nearly 85 percent of the trash.
For years, the society has lobbied to get the river cleaned and now the D.C. Council is moving the issue to the forefront.
Councilman Tommy Wells from Ward Six introduced the Anacostia Cleanup and Protection Act and 11 of the 13 council members support it. The bill would charge customers 5 cents for each plastic or paper they use. So, the tax would be added on at grocery and convenience stores, restaurants and others. The council said this bill may be one of the best ways to clean up the river by encouraging people to put their reusable bags into play.
However, many charity organizations rely on plastic bags. One organization is the United Church in northwest Washington. It runs a food pantry twice a month that uses plastic and paper bags to package food for its patrons. While the director of the pantry, George Madill, does not believe the church will be adversely affected by the bill, since its bags are donated from Virginia, he fears the patrons will suffer. Madill said the council is using the wrong approach.
“I think something needs to be done to encourage people to use reusable bags, but the idea of charging people a nickel a bag – I don’t think that’s the answer,” Madill said. “I think it’d be much better to use the carrot approach by maybe giving them a nickel each time they brought a reusable bag.”
Some opponents said this bill puts an undue burden on the poor who may have to think twice before making an impulse purchase.
“It’s fine and dandy if you’re planning to shop,” said Kevin Rost, a Washington resident, “but if you’re not planning to shop and you happen to see a sale, but you say, ‘I only have 10 dollars with me and it’s going to be five bags of goods so I don’t have that extra quarter [to spend on bags].”
Rost went on to say that this may seem like a foolish matter, debating the importance of spare change, but for a minimum wage worker, “that quarter could make the difference as to whether you get all your items or you forego something in order to pay for the plastic bag,” he said.
But Jim Connolly, executive director of the Anacostia Watershed Society emphasized that dirty water isn’t just unpleasant to look at, but it’s harmful to your health and overall well-being.
“Well, yea, it's an inconvenience [to carry around reusable bags]. But it's also an inconvenience to have dirty water because that ultimately has larger impacts on drinking water, on food sources, on real estate values [and] quality of life.”
The proposed bill has a noble goal, but at what cost to consumers? Many supporters argue that protecting the environment is well worth the 5 cents.
Click here for information about Anacostia Cleanup Day.