It was a beautiful day for a ballgame yesterday at Nationals Park. President Obama threw out the first ball (to cheers), temperatures climbed close to 80 degrees, the game was a sellout and the ballpark overlooking Washington D.C.’s other river–the Anacostia — never looked better. Here’s the view from my perch in the upper deck.
About that river: The Anacostia River flows for about eight miles from Prince George’s County, Maryland, into your nation’s capital, where it empties into the Potomac. It has a troubled past and a bright future, as I learned recently on a boat trip along the Anacostia organized by my synagogue, Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation, and led by our eco-friendly rabbi, Fred Dobb.
Jim Foster, the president of the Anacostia Watershed Society, told us that dumping of raw sewage, along with industrial waste from the Washington Navy Yard, had turned the Anacostia into one of America’s most polluted waterways by the late 1980s. Not coincidentally, the Anacostia runs through Washington’s poorest neighborhoods. Today, things are looking up. Driving the improvement are tougher pollution laws, increased awareness of the river’s value, riverfront development spurred by the new Nationals Park and, most recently, a law regulating plastic bags in the District of Columbia that has already had a remarkable impact.
Plastic bags are a blight on the river. A trash survey by the city’s Department of the Environment found that, depending on whether the garbage was collected at storm drains, streams or nearby surface sites, between 19 and 33 percent of the waste entering the Anacostia was plastic bags. About 20,000 tons of waste enter the river each year.
Last June, in an effort to protect the Anacostia and its tributaries, the D.C. City Council unanimously passed a five-cent tax on plastic and paper bags to discourage their use. Money collected under the bill will go to clean up the river.
How is the bag tax working out? Brilliantly, so far. In January, the month the bill took effect, people dramatically scaled back their use of plastic bags. According to The Washington Post:
In its first assessment of how the new law is working, the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue estimates that city food and grocery establishments issued about 3.3 million bags in January, which suggests a remarkable decrease. Prior to the bag tax taking effect Jan 1, the Office of the Chief Financial Officer had estimated that about 22.5 million bags were being issued per month in 2009.
Yes, that’s right: The city’s stores report that they gave out 85% fewer disposable bags the first month the law took effect. [click to continue…]