Skip the Bag, Save the River

"Do you want a plastic bag?"

"Um, okay..."

"That'll cost you a nickel."

"Oh, well, never mind.  Thanks anyway."

That's the exchange I had with a Subway cashier today.  As I was paying for my food, she piled my sandwich, chips and napkin on the counter, held up a clear plastic bag, and asked me if I wanted to use it. 

I never really thought of it before -- all the other times the items were simply stuffed in the bag and I went on my merry way to enjoy my footlong at my desk.  But today's experience reminded me that there's a new policy here in D.C. which taxes shoppers for the use of plastic bags.  I think it's great! 

I've long used reusable cloth shopping bags for groceries and usually decline plastic bags whenever I shop retail stores.  However, it had never occured to me until today to decline the bag at Subway and simply carry my stuff back across the street in my hands.  Not much of an inconvenience if you think about.  And certainly a small price to pay (or not to pay, as the case may be) for a greater good -- a cleaner, healthier environment.

Under the new policy, which took effect on Jan. 1, District businesses that sell food or alcohol must charge customers 5 cents for each disposalbe paper or plastic carryout bag.  The business keeps 1 cent (or 2 cents if it offers a rebate when you bring your own bag), and the remaining 3 or 4 cents go to the new Anacostia River Protection Fund.  The fund will in turn provide reusable bags, educate the public about litter and clean up the river.  Pretty simple and very cool!

Check out this website to learn more:

I certainly appreciate what this education and action campaign is trying to do.  As someone who started my environmental career with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, ran the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation in North Carolina, and oversaw the National River Cleanup program for the group American Rivers, I've done plenty of stream cleanups in my day and know how much litter ends up in our wonderful waterways.  Most people probably don't realize that this is a big problem but millions of tons of trash pollute the nation’s rivers and streams every year.

To me, anything that keeps crap like plastic bags from clogging up our waters makes sense.  And charging 5 cents to help clean up the Anacostia River seems worthwhile.  So, the next time you buy something in D.C., do the river a favor and bag that bag!