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Trapping Trash Before It Gets To The Anacostia

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A crew out on the Anacostia River, which is now benefitting from funding provided by D.C.'s plastic bag tax.
Armando Trull
A crew out on the Anacostia River, which is now benefitting from funding provided by D.C.'s plastic bag tax.

Some of the money raised by D.C.'s bag tax has literally gone down the drain, through a program to clean up trash in the Anacostia watershed. 

Visitors to Marvin Gaye Park in D.C.'s Ward 7 don't have to look far across the creek bed to see trash: a quick glance shows a Heineken can, a potato chip bag, countless plastic bottles. What visitors may not see right away, however, is a contraption downstream designed to stop that from getting into the Anacostia River.

The device, called a Bandalong litter trap, captures floating litter. The Bandalong is a basically a giant skimmer. It spans about 100 feet across Watts Branch and funnels trash into a cage. It rises and falls with the water and there are now three of these contraptions in the District.

"Capturing floating litter does two things. One, it improves the beauty of the stream and two, wildlife often mistake floating litter for food," says Mark Bollander, the Anacostia Riverkeeper. "They'll actually eat cigarette butts or little pieces of Styrofoam."

This trap, and the employees who clean it out each week and after every rainfall, are paid for by the 5-cent bag tax. Dennis Chestnut is with Groundwork Anacostia, a community group that's been helping maintain the traps. Over the year the traps have been tested, the group has been catching fewer and fewer plastic bags -- but still a lot of trash.

"The one in Kenilworth we've averaged about a little under 800 pounds a month of litter," Chestnut says. It's a whole lot of plastic bottles and potato chip bags that didn't make it into the Anacostia River.

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