Recyling Refunds: The Time is Now

Picture of Anacostia Riverkeeper

Anacostia Riverkeeper

The Anacostia River has the dubious distinction of being one of only three bodies of water in the entire United States with a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for Trash. A TMDL is essentially a cap on the amount of pollution a healthy water body can receive. For the Anacostia, this means the EPA has deemed that there is so much trash in the river that a certain amount must be taken out each year. 

To support the TMDL, Anacostia Riverkeeper runs multiple programs to remove trash from the river, its tributaries, and surrounding parks. In 2023, we removed over 18,000 lbs of trash from the environment at community cleanups alone as well as almost 3,000 lbs from Bandalong trash traps. That’s a lot of trash! 

The Anacostia’s Trash TMDL has been in place for over 10 years. While we have seen changes in the makeup of what types of trash we find in the watershed, there is still a prevalent amount of trash in total.

The Problem

The biggest issue currently contributing to trash pollution in the river is beverage containers, especially plastic bottles.

In land-based cleanups where glass bottles are more easily captured but can dominate the weight data vs plastic bottles, beverage containers including aluminum cans, plastic bottles, and glass bottles make up over 50% of the weight of all litter picked up by thousands of volunteers annually in our watershed.

Of all the trash Anacostia Riverkeeper captures and documents from trash traps in the watershed, roughly 60% by weight is solely plastic bottles. For reference, we and our partners in both counties empty the contents of almost all the bottles captured, so this is a rigorous and conservative accounting of trash by weight. 

Plastic beverage containers pollute our waterways and pose a threat to wildlife and human health. They break up into small pieces and are ingested by marine life, injuring and killing fish, seabirds, and marine mammals. As they break down into microplastics, scientists estimate that we are ingesting up to a credit card’s worth of plastic weekly.

The Solution

This problem is unnecessary. 

If we can implement policies that reduce single-use plastic and other waste production, then less trash will get into the environment and the river in the first place. Policies that encourage reuse and generate more recycled content for new containers help keep materials in a circular stream and reduce pollution.

A bottle bill, or recycling refund, would do just that.

Ten states already have some version of a beverage container return and refund law on the books. These states see much higher actual waste diversion and recycling rates than we currently see in Maryland and DC, and much less harmful plastic and other beverage container pollution ruining the recreational value of their wild areas, choking and poisoning their wildlife, and filling their residents with an ever increasing number of microplastics.

A bottle bill would:

  • Reduce beverage container litter and plastic pollution and improve water quality
  • Drastically increase recycling rates
  • Provide high quality, food-grade recycled content for new food and beverage containers
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from production of new cans and bottles from virgin materials
  • Save taxpayers and local governments 
  • Invest towards refillable and reusable container systems
  • Create jobs

What would this look like?

In Maryland, the Beverage Container Recycling Refund and Litter Reduction bill (HB 735/SB 642) has been introduced. The bill would create a beverage container deposit program in Maryland with a 10- or 15-cent refundable deposit on metal, glass, and plastic beverage containers, depending on container size. The deposit is refunded to the customer when the beverage container is returned for recycling. The program would rely on reverse vending machines and other new technologies for convenient container redemption to achieve at least a 90% redemption rate. Learn more about the bill here.

Anacostia Riverkeeper testified at both the house and senate hearings in the past two weeks and fully supports HB735/SB642.

You can take direct action now to make this a reality. Contact your Maryland state representatives and urge them to support HB735/SB642. You can find your representatives here.

While the District has not introduced any legislation yet, a bottle bill is also a logical next step for DC. This would likely function similarly to the proposed Maryland bill, which is modeled after other successful state bottle bills. Along the mainstem of the river, almost all of which is in DC, Anacostia Riverkeeper hosts many trash cleanups and the adverse effects of the plastic pollution we see disproportionately impact residents in lower income neighborhoods, and especially in Wards 5, 7 and 8. This is an environmental justice issue and we need to take action.

In February 2024, DC Government released the “Zero Waste DC Plan”, a multi-step pathway towards reaching the goals set in the Sustainable DC plan to reduce waste. The Zero Waste Plan sets the goal of a citywide solid waste diversion rate of 80% by 2040. To achieve this and the other targets laid out in the plan, the District will need to enact actionable, ambitious initiatives like a recycling refund system for beverage containers.

Learn more about what a bottle bill could look like for DC here.