Local government agencies, and community businesses across the city are exploring various environmental strategies to support local sustainability, as Anacostia River cleaning initiatives, and newly amended foam ban policies are still effecting change.

According to Earthjustice.org, raw sewage has led as the top pollution source to the Anacostia watershed, with half a billion gallons of waste landing in the riverway per year. The poor conditions of the District staple has inspired the Department of Energy & Environment to launch initiatives promoting equity and availability of the waterway to all city residents.

“I think one of the most important things is that the city is starting to see results. The Anacostia River is cleaner than it has been in over 50 years. It is a place where people want to be,” Tommy Wells, director of the DOEE, told The Informer. “That is why we’re starting [certain programs], so that we are equitable, and that it is available to everyone.

In further support of the agency’s efforts, DOEE passed a city-wide foam ban prohibiting the business and organizational use of disposable food service ware made from expanded polystyrene material, commonly known as Styrofoam.

January 2021, five years post the initial drafting, the environmental bill was amended, further banning the sales of foam food storage ware containers including ice chests, coolers, and foam loose-filled packing material. Wells highlights the general compliance of District businesses in support of the agency’s environmental goals.

“It just puts our laws in alignment with Montgomery County and our surrounding counties. So, it just creates more certainty for all of the businesses,” said Wells. “We get very little push back of the environmental initiative in our city. It’s just in our ethos.”

However, as municipalities impose foam laws on local food retailers, some find their available packaging options limited. Especially more residents have substituted dining out for takeaway, the legal bans on Styrofoam and polystyrene face a certain level of distress.

“I think the pressure is in all the wrong places; it should be with the manufacturers. We wouldn’t have so many different types of materials in use that can’t be recycled, if it were illegal for them to even be made,” said Eric Logan, managing partner of Ben’s Chili Bowl. “[From] a marketing [scope], they’ve effectively shifted the lens of ownership for who’s accountable, and they will say, ‘OK, don’t buy and don’t use these goods.’ Why don’t you stop [the manufacturers] so that they’re never made? It should be stopped at the source. We wouldn’t buy it if it wasn’t available, and if it wasn’t available for cheaper.”

Although the foam restrictions are inconvenient for certain businesses, others moved away from polystyrene packing material well before the environmental policies were set.

“We’ve actually never used Styrofoam in our establishment. We’re trying to move as much as we can to more sustainable packaged goods,” said Peter Opare, chef, and co-owner of the Open Crumb DC in Southeast. “Our environment affects our community, so as a business, if we’re going to be making money from these communities, we should do our best to get the products that actually help [them].”

Opare said the restaurant uses various paper products to serve menu items, and tries to avoid any non-biodegradable products that are environmentally harsh and have chemically toxic effects.

“Pollution usually affects the people at the ‘bottom of the hill,’ and I’m in a community that reflects that, so I should be doing my best to get those products that are sustainable. It’s just that simple,” Opare said.

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WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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