Earth Day Cleanup Demonstrates Why DC Needs a Bottle Bill

Kenilworth Park. On blustery Earth Day, several hearty Sierra Club DC Chapter volunteers waded up to their waists to rid Watts Branch in Kenilworth Park of litter and trash. Most of what they fished out were plastic bottles and other beverage containers. The waders were joined by landlubbers who scoured the stream bank, scooping up more bottles, cans, and other dumped trash. 

The Clean Water Committee has “adopted” a section of Watts Branch in Kenilworth Park and performs semi-annual cleanups at a stretch of stream on either side of the bike-pedestrian bridge for the Anacostia River Trail. Usually the stream is low and free-flowing, but this time we found the water level high and pond-like. After some exploration, we identified why: a beaver! One was spotted dozing in the underbrush, and with some bushwacking, we found its new dam a short distance downstream. A large tree felled just above the dam formed a natural trash trap. 

The Chapter’s efforts this Earth Day were part of a larger Kenilworth Park cleanup organized by the Anacostia Riverkeeper (ARK), and one of scores of cleanups across the District that day. In fact, volunteers removed thousands of bottles and cans across the District this Earth Day, just as they do at Martin Luther King Day and other cleanups throughout the year. We’re not surprised considering plastic bottles make up more than half of the trash pulled from the Anacostia River, according to ARK data. ARK reported that beverage containers were at least 60 percent of all the litter cleaned up at Kenilworth Park on April 22nd.

The District could significantly cut beverage container litter dumped in our parks, waterways and neighborhoods by adopting a beverage container deposit-return law, commonly called a “bottle bill.” What does that entail? Customers pay a small deposit when they buy a drink in a bottle or can.They get their deposit refunded when they return the empty container either to a store, a redemption center, through a bag drop system or a reverse vending machine, “RVM.” Zero Waste Committee volunteers used the Kenilworth Park cleanup to demonstrate how RVMs and bottle bills work. People dropped some of their cleanup plastic bottles into one of our mock RVMs and we returned their “deposit” in the form of a donut hole – all while encouraging them to sign our bottle bill petition. We explained how bottle bills both cut litter and dumping and increase recycling rates, and that they work because people have an incentive to return their bottles and cans. We added that we wouldn’t have to do so many cleanups if the District adopted a deposit-return law. That definitely resonated.

Every Earth Day, the DC Chapter conducts cleanups. Sadly, that’s not stopping bottles and cans from polluting our streams. If we want to end beverage container pollution and have a more meaningful impact, everyday, we need to do something differently. We need to adopt a bottle bill. States like Michigan, with a 10 cent deposit, have witnessed 90 percent recycling rates for their bottles and cans. Here in the District, our projected plastic recycling rate for 2023 is a mere 6.5 percent. We’ve talked with a few transplanted Michiganers and they can’t believe DC doesn’t have this common-sense law. Instead, our volunteers continue to engage in annual Earth Day heroics, trying to keep part of one District park clean, at least for a while. The beavers know it’s just a matter of time before more bottles and cans wash into their homes.

Let’s end this pollution once and for all and keep our waterways and rivers healthy and communities and wildlife safe from pollution. Please sign our petition demanding the District Council and Mayor adopt a strong bottle bill at We’re also looking for volunteers interested in conducting community outreach and education on deposit-return laws. 

The Chapter is part of the Return, Refund and Recycle Coalition for DC. For more information check out or contact