Mitigating Tire Pollution in the Anacostia River

One major cause of pollution in the Anacostia River is litter. This can include plastic bags, bottles, and even waste tires. While small household litter is often the target of mitigation efforts, automobile tires are a large source of pollution in and along the river. Illicit tire dumping into the river has been on the rise as we have found in our cleanup data through the years. This is a disregarded environmental issue that has detrimental effects on both the residents that live along the river as well as the wildlife that calls the river home. 

In Spring 2023, we worked with a group of students from the George Washington University M.A. Program in Environmental Resource Policy to look into the issue of tire pollution in the Anacostia watershed. The team addressed a core question: what is the optimal policy alternative to minimize the prevalence of tire pollution in the Anacostia River?

Why is illegal tire dumping a problem?

While tires are a part of everyday life for most people in the United States, they can also pose many dangers to the environment, and even to humans. Throughout its lifetime, tires will lose about 30% of their tread, and what is lost are the additives, synthetic rubbers, and oil that go into producing it. These will then enter the environment and pollute waterways and ecosystems, which numerous studies have shown will have developmental, behavioral, and even lethal consequences for fish and other wildlife.

If a tire is not properly disposed of, they will usually end up illegally dumped in areas near creeks or directly along the main river. Tires can take between 50-80 years to decompose, and while it is breaking down in the water, they can continue to leach toxins.

The city has two large solid waste transfer stations, which are run by the Department of Public Works at Fort Totten and Benning Road. Private and public haulers pick up and dump solid trash at transfer stations, which is then transported to various facilities in Maryland, Virginia, DC, and beyond. The District covers nearly all the costs of solid waste disposal, but charges a tipping fee for private haulers, which increased from $50 per ton solid waste in 2010 to $60.62 in 2019. With this fee increase, more and more small tire retailers use unlicensed haulers to dispose of their tires because they charge a far lower fee. Those unauthorized carriers then have little responsibility to properly dispose of the tires, and will illegally dump in areas like  parks that are easy to access and not well monitored – many of which are near the Anacostia River and its tributaries, especially in Wards 7 and 8.

Recommended Policy: A DC Government Action Plan

While DC has some tire regulations, they are not adequate in mitigating illegal tire dumping. The GWU group looked into policies that exist in other regions and states to guide their analysis and propose a final recommendation for DC.

Their research led to five policy alternatives: 

  1. DC Government Action Plan
  2. Extended Producer Responsibility
  3. Tire Education Campaign
  4. Tracking System
  5. Maintaining the Status Quo

When comparing policy alternatives, they looked at Cost Minimization, Effectiveness, Sustainability, and Political Feasibility.

The group recommends that a DC Government Action Plan would be the most effective policy option for the city to adopt in mitigating tire pollution.

This would set up a tire fund established from a $1 fee on new and used tire sales to provide better efficiency towards cleanups and allow for stricter enforcement to increase deterrence for repeat tire dumpers. It will additionally allow for a task force to be composed to help monitor areas of high dumping as well as provide drop-off areas where residents can dispose of tires free of charge in a more effective manner. Many states have similar programs that have proven to be successful and can serve as a model for DC.

With high political feasibility and sustainability, it is believed that this alternative will not only be effective in reducing instances of illegal tire dumping in the area, but will also be able to sustain itself and be a long-term solution to the issue.


Want to learn more? Read their full report and watch the webinar presentation on their findings below.