Policies for a #PlasticFree Anacostia

Picture of Anacostia Riverkeeper

Anacostia Riverkeeper

Trash is one of the most wide-spread pollutants effecting the Anacostia River, and the EPA has designated the river as “impaired by trash”, imposing a total maximum daily load (TMDL). We, at Anacostia Riverkeeper, are working to mitigate this issue through trash clean-ups and by deploying innovative technologies such as Bandalong® trash traps and Seabins® throughout the watershed. These efforts are important ways to remove trash from our waterways, but they do not address the source of the trash. Presently, 60 percent by weight of trash removed from the Anacostia is plastic bottles. Thus, ARK is interested in understanding policy options that can reduce plastic bottle waste

GW students pose with pile of trash pulled from the Bandalong

In late 2021, ARK was approached by LLTNG Consulting Group, a team of five students from the George Washington University MA Program in Environmental Resource Policy. These students offered pro bono services on a project that would benefit the Anacostia. After much discussion, the students developed a research project that assessed and proposed recommendations on policy options that the District should consider to reduce plastic bottle waste entering the Anacostia. LLTNG Consulting framed their overarching research question as “What is the optimal policy for D.C. to decrease plastic beverage container pollution in the Anacostia River?”

When making their recommendations, the students considered administrative feasibility, efficacy, environmental equity, and cost to private stakeholders. Their research also provides a brief history of efforts to pass similar legislation in DC in the past, and an in-depth literature review of policies that have been implemented in states across the country.

LLTNG Consulting considered five potential policy options: a plastic bottle tax, a bottle deposit bill, a plastic bottle ban, a shelf space percentage bill, and maintaining the status quo.

LLTNG Consulting's conclusion: A bottle deposit bill would be the best option for Washington DC.

Here’s why:

  • Efficacy: Their research found that well-managed and updated bottle bills consistently decrease litter and divert 40 to 60 percent more waste than curbside recycling alone making this a very effective option for tackling plastic bottles in the Anacostia.
  • Administrative Feasibility: Bottle bills have been implemented in 10 states providing examples for how to implement a bottle bill program. They also provide lessons that DC can learn from when attempting to implement a bottle bill.
  • Environmental Equity: The proposed policy would require DC to have redemption centers and reverse vending machines within 1 mile of any residential area so that it was convenient for all residents to redeem their bottles. Additionally, the proposed bottle bill would use unredeemed funds to update D.C. drinking water infrastructure, fund clean ups of trash hotspots, and mitigate the maintenance costs incurred by private stakeholders who are responsible for bottle drop locations.

Challenges of a bottle deposit bill:

One of the biggest challenges for a bottle bill is having the physical space, facilities, and infrastructure to collect and transport bottles that being returned. DC’s transfer stations may need upgrades, stores will need space for reverse vending machines that can collect redeemed bottles, and storage for these bottles are all potential challenges. In the past, many companies lobbied hard against bottle bills, but LLTNG’s research suggests that attitudes are changing in private industry and that there would likely be less resistance this time.

Want to learn more about bottle bills and the other policies that LLTNG considered? 

On May 10, Anacostia Riverkeeper held a webinar to give LLTNG Consulting an opportunity to present these results to members of the community. Afterwards, we hosted an engaging discussion. To learn more about the research they conducted and the other policies they proposed, check out the recording of the webinar or read their report.