Achieving a Trash Free Potomac River: Policies That Work

DSC01402Through our Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative, the Alice Ferguson Foundation seeks to enhance the policies, infrastructure and institutions necessary to achieve a Trash-Free Potomac River. One proven policy approach includes the use of incentives to encourage consumers to utilize reusable bags instead of one-time use plastic bags. In the metropolitan Washington area, both the District of Columbia and Montgomery County have enacted laws that impose a five-cent fee on plastic and paper bags.

These laws have proved highly effective and have been tested and evaluated since being implemented. In Washington, DC, AFF has worked with the research firm OpinionWorks to conduct an initial survey of the effectiveness of the law and then conducted a follow up study in 2013.

Washington, DC
What: 5 cent fee for establishments selling food
Date: Took effect January 1, 2010
Motto: Skip the Bag. Save the River.
Details: The fee is split between the establishments and the government with the government portion going into the Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Fund
Social Research Results: 2010 Study and 2013 Study
• 60% decrease in the use of single-use bags
• 50% of businesses have saved money because of the fee
• 83% of residents and 90% of businesses either are supportive or indifferent to the fee, with very few opposed to it

Cleanup Results: 72% reduction in plastic bags found at cleanups once the bag fee was in place. See “Bag Fees at Work: An Analysis of Reductions in Plastic Bags from Potomac River Watershed Cleanups 2007-2014” for more details.

Montgomery County, MD
What: 5 cent fee on disposable carryout bags for all retail establishments
Date: Took effect on January 1, 2012
Motto: Bring Your Bag! Fight Litter
Details: The fee is split between the retail establishments and the government with four of the five cents going into the County’s Water Quality Protection Charge (WQPC) fund

Cleanup Results: Roughly a 65% reduction in plastic bags found at cleanups once the bag fee was in place (2010-2011 to 2012-2013).  The first year there was a 63% reduction and an additional 18% reduction was achieved in 2013.

To get involved in helping pass a bag fee in your areas, email [email protected] or call 301-292-5665.