THE DISTRICT is still days away from a new tax on plastic and paper bags, and the complaining has already started. That's understandable given the fundamental change in habit that people are being asked to make. Nonetheless, the new law is a worthy effort aimed at reducing local litter and cleaning up polluted waterways. Not only should it be vigorously enforced, but we also hope it spurs neighboring Virginia and Maryland to follow suit.
On Friday, the Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Act will take effect -- implementing a 5-cent fee on disposable plastic and paper bags at many stores. Consumers are encouraged to bring their own reusable bags to grocery, drug and liquor stores. Businesses will retain 1 or 2 cents of the fee, depending on whether they offer a credit for reusable bags, with the rest of the revenue going to a special fund to clean up the Anacostia River. The real hope, though, is that the measure will discourage use of these ubiquitous bags that comprise much of the trash clogging the river and its tributaries.
How smoothly the law is implemented depends on the efforts of the District to educate and prepare the public. The city's Department of Environment started its campaign in the fall, and the willingness of local businesses to help out is an encouraging sign. For example, CVS is partnering with the department to provide 112,000 free reusable bags, and Giant, which had opposed the legislation, has agreed to provide a free reusable bag with every purchase during the first week of January, estimated to total 250,000 bags.
That kind of support should persuade lawmakers in Maryland and Virginia to take another look at this creative way of controlling pollution. Bills similar to the District's were introduced last year in both states but died in committee. With the new legislative sessions slated to start in January, Virginia Del. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and Maryland Del. Alfred C. Carr Jr. (D-Montgomery) are coordinating efforts to follow the District's lead by imposing a fee on disposable bags, with revenue earmarked for polluted waterways like the Chesapeake Bay. Taking care of the environment is one of those issues that crosses the lines of jurisdictions, and it's important Virginia and Maryland do their part.