Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Support a Prince George's County Bag Bill

By Brent Bolin
Director of Advocacy, Anacostia Watershed Society
Cross-posted from

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:

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.

Write your delegates and delegation chair Melony Griffith to tell them to support PG 402-12!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Upcoming workshops

One benefit of Alliance membership is training opportunities. I am beginning a road show of workshops around the state to educate members and other interested folks in the ins and outs of a plastics campaign.

This Wednesday, November 16, I will be at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School in Baltimore. The workshop begins at 2 pm and will focus primarily on legislative solutions to plastic litter, including case studies of the successful advocacy campaigns in Washington, DC, and Montgomery County. If you are interested in attending, please email me!

Other workshops are scheduled for December 1 in Cambridge and December 13 in Berlin. Check our calendar tab for more details.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

In brighter news...

A roundup of recent success stories:

Brownsville, Texas, instituted a ban on plastic bags in January, and residents are seeing the results:

Brownsville resident Juan Peña says he has noticed that the city looks a lot cleaner.

Travel around any part of the city and you probably will not see plastic bags clinging to fences or discarded on the roadways.

Peña says West Brownsville especially looks cleaner than it did about 11 months ago. He says the decision by city officials to implement a plastic bag in January was a good thing.

As part of the transition, stores could continue to give out plastic bags if they added a $1 surcharge to the transaction as an environmental fee. The bulk of the fee goes to the city -- about $250,000 was collected and used for litter pickup and as an incentive for bulk waste disposal.

Portland, Oregon's plastic bag ban took effect on October 15. Mayor Sam Adams expects the transition to be smooth, but hopes curmudgeons will blame him, and not the cashiers:

And Chicago is now considering a plastic bag ordinance as well. Alderman Joe Moreno is proposing a ban in order to prevent a scenario he recently described:

"I am, right now, I'm at [a] school in my ward, I'm about to meet with the principal, I'm on the playground," said Moreno. "And I can count eight bags just sitting's windy out today, bouncing off the fences in this little playground area....Someone's got to clean those up, and it's city taxpayers that pay for that."

We reap what we sow

Shocking video of a canal in Naples after a storms:

Why do we do this to ourselves? Thanks to @FlotsamDiaries for the tip.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

DC Bag Fee Creating Green Jobs in DC and Maryland

DC Greenworks is a Washington, DC, nonprofit social enterprise that consults, designs, and installs low-impact development projects to protect the environment. In that vein, the organization manages rain barrel installation for the District Department of the Environment's RiverSmart Homes program.

A third of their funding for the rain barrel program comes from the Anacostia River Cleanup Fund, aka the bag fund. This additional funding has substantially increased what they are able to do.

In 2009, before the fee went into effect, DC Greenworks installed 400 rain barrels at homes around the District. This year, with the additional funding, they expect to install 1000 rain barrels!

This increase has led them to hire two part-time installers. Peter Ensign, the organization's executive director, says that the rain barrel manufacturer, RiverSides, is ramping up production to meet the growing local demand. Though based in Toronto, the organization has added a manufacturing site at C.R. Daniels, a textiles, metal, and durable plastic factory in Ellicott City, Maryland. This move has piqued interest by Montgomery County, too, who is considering increasing the scope of its rain barrel program (Rainscapes) with this new local source.

Rain barrels improve water quality by capturing rain that falls on roofs and allowing residents to use the stored water during dry spells. This practice reduces the runoff that pollutes streams and rivers, while also reducing the amount of drinking water residents must pay for to water their landscapes.

In a press release, Marcus Ginder, Chair of RiverSides RainBarrel Group, says they expect the move will help them develop additional partnerships in the region. They also currently provide barrels to Greenbelt Cooperative Homes. "With this move to Maryland," says Ginder, "RiverSides RainBarrels will have a greater capacity to serve Chesapeake Bay protection organizations and municipalities with effective solutions to the stormwater problems plaguing old sewer systems."