The past year or two have seen important progress both at state and county levels on actions to address the litter problem.

Fairfax County Anti-Litter Initiatives

Operation Stream Shield

county cleanup crew

In Fall 2019, the county began a Litter Removal Pilot Project, which was so successful it was extended for five years. (Operations were suspended for several months due to the pandemic, but resumed in Fall 2020.)

The program provides part-time, temporary work to guests of county shelters. Participants earn $10 an hour to pick up litter in and around streams and to remove invasive plants. This project is a win-win—it helps improve water quality in streams as well as provide dignity in work to people experiencing homelessness. The team of up to 10 people is out working every weekday, so they can pull a lot of trash out of streams. It has made a tremendous difference in the amount of trash we see floating downstream in Little Hunting Creek. For more information, visit here.

Trash Trap on Little Hunting Creek

Like many urban streams, Little Hunting Creek has had its share of litter issues.

During rain events floating litter, also known as "floatables" or "gross solids" (primarily plastic bottles, bags, and food containers) washes into storm drains from streets and sidewalks and enters the creek, where it is either deposited into flood plains or enters the Potomac River, with adverse effects on both local communities and terrestrial and aquatic wildlife. In support of volunteer and County efforts to reduce litter in Little Hunting Creek, and as part of larger countywide initiatives to reduce litter in streams, Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services installed a Bandalong trash trap along Little Hunting Creek near Richmond Highway, behind Mount Vernon Plaza, in April of 2020 as part of a pilot study.

The trash trap floats on the surface of the stream and captures floating litter as it moves downstream for periodic removal and disposal. The photos below show the trash trap at work. The first photo of the empty trash trap was taken on November 10, 2020, one day before a large rain event dropped just under 3 inches of rain on that part of the county. The trash trap had been emptied about a week earlier on November 4, 2020. The second photo of the full trash trap was taken on November 18, 2020, a week after the storm. Crews removed 42 pounds of trash (3 thirty-gallon bags).

Legislative Progress

After years of our legislators introducing, and FOLHC testifying to support, bills to address the problems of litter, 2020 finally saw significant success. Bills were passed and signed into law to:

Increase the litter tax.

This minimal tax on each 7-11 and other establishments that sell groceries, soft drinks, or beer, funds anti-litter programs. It has never been increased since it was enacted in 1987. Now the annual tax will be increased from $25 to $50.

Allow certain localities to make it illegal to abandon shopping carts.

Del. Surovell et al. pulling a cart out of the creek

The law would allow Fairfax County to give notice to a shopping cart owner (e.g., Walmart) when a cart is found off its premises, requiring the owner to retrieve the cart within 14 days. If the owner fails to retrieve the cart, Fairfax County could retrieve and dispose of the cart and charge the owner for the costs to do so.

Hard to say which was the heavier lift— Senator Surovell finally getting his abandoned shopping cart bill passed by the General Assembly and signed into law, or pulling shopping carts out of the creek.

Impose a 5 cent tax on certain disposable plastic bags.

bags snagged in Little Hunting Creek

Retailers must impose a 5 cent tax on disposable plastic bags (some bags, such as those used for meat and produce, are exempt). The retailer retains a portion of the tax, and the rest goes to the locality, and must be used for environmental cleanup, educational programs to reduce environmental waste, mitigating pollution and litter, or providing reusable bags to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) recipients.

The Friends of Little Hunting Creek thank our local representatives, especially Senator Scott Surovell, Senator Adam Ebbin, Delegate Paul Krizek, and Delegate Alfonso Lopez, for tirelessly pursuing bills to address the litter problem in Little Hunting Creek, and Northern Virginia.