Trash at Bladensburg Waterfront Park
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). A trash TMDL, or pollution diet, was issued that requires Anacostia jurisdictions to reduce the amount of trash entering the river.
Stormwater carrying trash down the river
Stormwater runoff is the “conveyor belt” that moves trash from roads, parking lots, etc. into the river, so controlling stormwater runoff will help us control trash too. AWS believes that the most sustainable long term solution is to keep trash out of the river in the first place, so we advocate for win-win solutions like the DC bag bill in addition to trash traps that catch trash already in the waterway.
Nash Run Trash Trap
Trash traps are an intermediate solution to the Anacostia River’s trash problems. AWS has installed our original design, engineered by our water quality specialist Masaya Maeda, at Nash Run. They can remove thousands of pounds of floatable trash in the areas they serve. In the first two years, our trash trap caught over three thousand pounds of trash. Unfortunately, our data shows that the majority of trash is non-floatable, and therefore not catchable. The more complete and sustainable solution is to reduce trash at its source.
Learn more about the Nash Run Trash Trap.
AWS is a charter member of the Trash Free Maryland Alliance, a group working toward sustainable trash reduction solutions in Maryland. Most people are familiar with the mantra “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”, but most people do not realize that they are given in order of preference. Reduction of waste is the highest priority, and recycling is a last resort. In the long run, it will be much cheaper and more effective to reduce trash at the source rather than hauling it out of the river after it has been littered.
The executive summary of the 2008 AWS trash study is available here. 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 is plastic bags. Armed with this information, DC Councilmember Tommy Wells crafted the highly successful DC bag bill. In just one year, a five-cent fee on single-use bags caused a 60% drop in plastic bag usage in DC, while generating nearly $2 million that is dedicated to Anacostia River cleanup efforts by the District. These funds are now used to install trash traps, restore streams, educate youth about the problems of litter, and support property improvements like rain gardens, rain barrels, tree plantings, and green roofs, through DDOE's suite of RiverSmart programs.
Because the bag bill has proven to be such an effective trash reduction policy, AWS has worked hard to implement a bag bill in Maryland. Working with Trash Free Maryland, AWS significantly advanced the cause of a statewide Maryland bag bill in the 2011 and 2012 General Assembly sessions. There have been many obstacles along the way, but we are very optomistic that legislation will pass in 2016.
The DC bag bill has been so successful that in 2011 Montgomery County chose not to wait on a statewide bag bill and implemented its own program that is even more comprehensive than the DC program. The bag bills in DC and Montgomery County cover 50% of the Anacostia watershed, so AWS continues to work hard to secure authorization for Prince George’s County (they must first receive certain authority from the state legislature) to enact a bag bill. A majority of the Prince George's County Council has expressed interested in passing a bag bill.
For the latest on both of these campaigns, visit the Trash Free Maryland Alliance's website.