Flooding Reveals Sad Sight on the Anacostia River


“Dear PoPville,

Took a walk along the Anacostia to check out some of the flooding. What a sad sight. The amount of plastic bottles floating down river, and collected along the river bank is mind boggling. It makes me very sad.”

So maybe that bag fee isn’t such a bad thing after all…

Photo by PoPville flickr user Cheikh.Ra

46 Comment

  • Check out this photo from the Anacostia Watershed Society – @anacostiaws

    And then there’s all the raw sewage that went in area waterways……

  • This is basically what it looks like on a normal day, except the bottles and other debris are bobbing around in the water.

    • Uh, not quite. I walk by this river M-F. There was clearly a LOT more litter/pollution out there today, and yes, it was a sad sight to see. My understanding is that all these plastic bottles, etc. come from storm drains in MD, VA, and DC. When the systems overload, they end up dumping into the Anacostia. I think they’ve been working on a solution to this involving an improvement in infrastructure, but it is years away. In the meantime, we’ll see these kinds of messes whenever there are massive amounts of rain. On a positive note, I believe water quality in the Anacostia has improved over the past 10 years or so. Much work lies ahead, though.

      • I walk by this area every day too. I also kayaked in it a few times last summer and participated in a river cleanup. I love the river but you’re not looking at it closely enough if you don’t think it’s this bad.

      • So wait, the bottles from from VA? So they are floating upstream? Gotcha…

        • OK, so none of the bottles in the Anacostia are from VA. But the general point that all of the surrounding states influence local waterways, and solutions require many different authorities working together, still applies.

  • BOTTLE DEPOSIT. Some environmental group needs to figure out how much money the beverage industry is throwing around in DC, commit a few years to matching or surpassing it and get a bottle bill passed. You need less lobbying to defend legislation than you do to create it. The bag tax shows that DC will adapt to these sorts of things fairly readily.

    • +1. Given all the litter I see in my neighborhood, I think we need deposits on aluminum cans, glass bottles, and plastic bottles.

      • It will give the panhandlers something to do. I’d rather have them collecting bottles and becoming their own recycling entrepreneurs.
        Bottle and can deposits have been great for China. There’s quasi-organzied professional recyclers who collect them onto specialized baskets they attach to their tricycle bikes and electric motor scooters. You’ll never see a can or bottle on the street or even in a garbage can for more than 10 minutes in China.

        • justinbc

          In San Diego you basically never see a dumpster that doesn’t have someone digging in it for bottles. They’ll even come up to you as you’re putting your garbage out and ask you for them.

          • The recycling was quite robust there. At the time I knew the name of the guy that came by and pillaged my entire recycling bin before the city could get there. He had a minivan full of bottles and cans. I would imagine he probably made more than any of us would have guessed. Although with the proximity to TJ I also saw guys taking entire trash collections into their trucks, driving it south and picking through it to see if there was anything they could sell- which was a great reminder to shred your personal documents and bills!

          • justinbc

            Yeah we saw several people who would drive from dumpster to dumpster. I always wondered how much the take offset the fuel costs.

    • +1000. Another bonus: As anyone who’s lived in a city with both bottle deposits and a significant homeless population has seen, an amazing amount of litter is picked up and recycled by the homeless. I don’t mean this to whitewash how horrible homelessness is, but there’s no question in my mind that bottle deposits result in cleaner streets and put some money in the pockets of those who need it most.

    • brookland_rez

      Sounds good to me.

  • Plastic bottles and bags should both be banned, period!

  • Everyone should read this article about the tunnel being dug to alleviate the waste water problems DC has. I’m not that into machinery, but I found it fascinating. Also, some information on WHY we have waste water problems, and why big rains dump trash into our rivers.

  • Agree. Time for a bottle deposit program in DC.

    • And upriver!!

    • I don’t understand why we don’t have the recycling program that allows you to deposit your empty bottles into a machine at the grocery store and in return you get a receipt for a monetary amount to use towards your grocery bill. I’ve seen this in Europe and I would think that it would encourage people to recycle.

      • Mug of Glop

        Agreed. I grew up in Michigan, land of the 10 cent bottle deposit. (Well, also land of crushing depression, but that’s another topic.) Basically every container subject to deposit (beer, pop, water) is returned. I’d say it’s a pretty successful program. It was a huge pain back in the day, but over the last 15-20 years, most grocery stores have adopted the automatic machines. Works like a charm.

      • You would first have to implement a bottle deposit fee. At least in the US states that have these machines (like NY), people are just getting back money they paid when then the bottle was purchased.
        Bottle deposits certainly do encourage recycling. Because even if you may not want to go through the hassle of returning a can or bottle, someone else will. When I lived in NY people would patrol neighborhoods on recycling day to claim bottles that were put out with the trash, and sadly there are always people who need the money enough to go through public trash cans to pull them out.

      • Beverage manufacturers (think Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Budweiser, etc.) don’t want to raise their sticker price due to the bottle/can deposit. So they continue spending money on politicians to get them to block efforts to require a deposit. They’ve done the research and realize that it’s more cost effective to spend money on lobbying every year than what it would mean in terms of lost sales if the prices rose.

        • they wouldn’t have to. in michigan it is very clearly a separate fee on your receipt. ie, you buy a 12 pack of pepsi, there is a charge on your receipt that says deposit $1.20

    • Not just in Europe. Several US states have required bottle deposits for more than a decade now.

      • Michigan has had a 10 cent deposit on most bottles and cans for nearly 40 years. People there are just used to it – it certainly never stopped our household from buying pop and beer. And there’s nothing like realizing all those empties you’ve accumulated can be exchanged for Actual Money. In my case at least, there has been a distinct carryover effect – after growing up with the idea that bottles and cans were not in fact trash, to this day I will go out of my way to recycle them.


  • Environmental justice is a real issue. However, in this case, I would contend a large portion of the blame for the disastrous state of the Anacostia falls on the residents of the adjacent neighborhoods themselves. Littering does have some demographic and class correlations and until we can get poor people to care about the environment as much as the entitled yuppies, I don’t see all the latter’s work to “clean up the river” helping the former group, who continue to treat it as their dump. I’m not a racist dick by the way; just calling it like I see it / being honest.

    • Maybe not a racist dick but certainly a self conscious one. Bonus point for calling yuppies entitled – is it environmental entitlement in this case? Or just thrown in there to show your bona fides as a person who understands poor people?

    • This just isn’t true at all. You, sir or ma’am, have no idea what you’re writing about. The water in the Anacostia has improved markedly over the past several years, and the city hopes that in another 20 years or so, people will be able to jet ski and fish out there. This isn’t about black people throwing Popeye’s wrappers into the river. Beware anyone who notes that their not racist at the end of an internet comment.

    • I’m not going to disagree that those in the lower classes and the less educated are *probably* more likely to litter. However, it would be wrong to suggest that the Anacostia River’s problems are due to … Anacostia (that’s where you’re going, right?). There are also wealthy neighborhoods in the watershed area (i.e., Capitol Hill, up and coming SW Waterfront area, etc…) But these areas are NOT the only factors in the river’s pollution. As I mentioned above (anonymous 3:39), there are systemic problems in our infrastructure that are leading to pollution issues- whether that be from the sewage systems or the street drains here in and in the two states. Maryland, Virginia, AND the District are all responsible for these problems, because their stuff is all flowing into the Anacostia. But I do agree with your assertion that those in poverty are less likely to care about the environment. If you look at history, people have only been able to care about things like this once their basic needs in other areas were met (It’s just in recent years that the Chinese are now starting to question why they have been living in the crappy, pollution-infested cities they’ve been living in….)

    • I would really love to know what evidence you have to support the assertion that poor people treat this river as their dump. And I will wager that however much trash poor people have dumped in the Anacostia, it pales in comparison to the toxic crap that wealthy chemical and other companies have dumped into it. That stuff may not be as visible as plastic trash is, but it’s way more dangerous.

      • That’s a rather defensive reaction. I don’t know if it’s true but it’s not a wild assertion either. As for your other point, does that mean it’s okay for me to start dumping trash in the river since it won’t be as bad as what the mean companies are putting in there? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

      • drive down w street between 2nd and 3rd by the public housing projects and see for yourself.

        • Or compare the amount of litter you see in gutters (much of which makes it into storm drains) in neighborhoods west of Rock Creek Park to the amount in neighborhoods east of the Park. (Not that it’s uniform for all neighborhoods east of the Park — but I definitely notice a difference west vs. east.)

          • justinbc

            The housing density is also completely different west vs east, so even if you ignore the poor vs wealthy piece there are simply a lot more people contributing to the trash you supposedly see. (Note: I live east of the park, in Capitol Hill, and I rarely ever see trash in our gutters.)

          • Good point re. housing density, but even controlling for that as a factor, I still see a lot of litter in my area. (I walked through a block of apartments in Glover Park last night and did not see a single piece of litter in the gutters.)
            I used to pick up litter on my entire block, but I’ve gotten more and more resentful over time and have downscaled.
            The problem isn’t just the litterers. It’s also the residents who don’t bother to pick up what the litterers have left behind. If everyone picked up in front of his/her own place — or even his/her own place, plus those on either side to account for elderly people, slackers, etc. — then there wouldn’t be this mass of litter on the sidewalk, and in the area between the sidewalk and the street. And even in people’s yards — how can you tolerate having trash in your own yard??

          • George W Bush had a point when talking about the ownership society. People that own their homes naturally care more about their surroundings than people acclimated to dependency. i’m not just talking about rich people who own their homes – i’m talking everyone. My block of 2nd street in LDP is a very diverse mix of old-time homeowners and new arrivals, and we are all regularly out there sweeping the streets, tidying up our tree boxes, etc. Not so much the residents of the projects on W street.

  • Mmm… reminds me of the time I swam in there. Also, reminds me of the time we weren’t allowed to because it rained too much the day before.

  • This is a result of our combined sewer system, which we hope to fix soon. When we get a lot of rain, this stuff goes out to the river instead of being collected by our municipal infrastructure. No need to shed a single tear here. This isn’t really the result of people throwing things into the river. It’s the result of the monsoon we just had, and a 19th century sewer system. The public policy suggestions above are all great, but the city is actually working to solve this problem by ridding us of our disgusting CSS.

    • I would also add that DC is not unique in having a sewer/waste system that combines street drains and sewage on high rainfall days — this is the rule rather than the exception in most of the country. On the non-rainy days when our sewage does make it to the treatment plant, DC has an extremely good treatment facility.

  • Keep in mind that first photo is of a pollution containment boom maintained by Earth Conservation Corps or of the other Anacostia clean up groups. So ugly as it looks, it designed as a litter trap and will be cleaned up.

  • The downside of bottle programs is every night around 2 AM some homeless guy will be going through your trash and recycling can to make some money. I lived in a city where this was a real problem.

    • When my friend live in NYC he said that they were encouraged to separate out recycling that carried a deposit. This way the homeless would just come by and pick it up rather than rummage through their garbage.

      I don’t know how much someone plying the street looking for recycling would earn, but there probably are stats somewhere. I’d be more concerned with homeless drug users who now have a source of steady income, or whether this would lead to more violence in the homeless community. Would turfs develop? Would homeless people fight each other to gain access to more bottle deposits?

      • God forbid if homeless folks got a chance at generating some sort of income. Next thing you know, they may not even be homeless! Quelle horreur!

  • brookland_rez

    Well I don’t see many bags, so that does seem to be working. Maybe San Francisco is right by instating a plastic water bottle ban.

  • Anastasia Beaverhausen

    I used to row in the Anacostia and this is pretty typical for any rain event heavier than a sprinkle.

    But think about this: The trash you’re seeing is just the trash that floats. There’s a whole lot more underwater.

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