Wednesday, February 18, 2009

D.C. shoppers want the Anacostia River cleaned up, but many aren’t sure that a 5-cent tax on paper and plastic bags is the best way to get the job done.

“There are a lot of people who shop outside the District, and this will cause people to leave even more,” said city resident Willy Adams, 73.

“If they will actually get the money over there, that would be good, but I have no confidence that the money will get there,” said Bill, 56, who declined to give his last name.

The tax proposal was introduced to the D.C. Council Tuesday by Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat. It has 12 co-sponsors on the 13-member council.

Mr. Wells said the tax would help the District get one step closer to a cleaner Anacostia River, which is on the receiving end of 20,000 tons of trash each year. The legislation, if enacted, could eliminate 47 percent of that, he said.

Dennis Chestnut, the director of groundwork for the Anacostia River, supports the legislation because, he said, it should “cause people to be more thrifty.”

According to a study by the D.C. Department of the Environment, plastic bags account for nearly 50 percent of the trash in tributaries such as Watts Branch in Capitol Heights, compared with 20 percent of the trash in the river. Mr. Chestnut said the bags harm wildlife because the material isn’t biodegradable.

He said he hopes the bill will raise “the level of consciousness and stewardship.”

Charles Allen, chief of staff for Mr. Wells, said the proposed tax would give consumers a choice between bringing their own bags or paying the tax.

Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat and the one member who didn’t co-sponsor the bill, said he was concerned that the impact will fall too heavily on the poor. He said he wants to know “more details” about the bill and the effect the tax would have on lower-income families.

The bill states that free, reusable bags would be given to senior citizens and low-income residents but does not specify an income level to qualify for the free bags.

Some residents said they wouldn’t mind paying the tax.

Victoria Salazar, 41, said it is good to contribute to the cleaning of the river voluntarily but that “the tax should also help.”

Mary Wilson, 58, said, “I have gone on a couple of projects to clean up the river, and there were a lot of plastic bags there. I think it will help get equipment and people to clean the river up.”

But Adrian Bellinger, of Hyattsville said he was skeptical that the bill would help out the river at all. He said the money “always goes to something else.”

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