Lobbyists were prowling the halls of the Wilson Building last week, trying to derail the Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Act. That bill will impose a small five-cent fee on carryout bags at grocery and liquor stores. The fee will create an incentive to use reusable bags, and the money collected will fund river cleanup and free bags for low income and elderly residents.

Opponents, however, are pushing a claim that the bill will harm minority communities. It won’t. Many community and religious leaders from those communities endorsed the bill. Councilmembers Marion Barry, Yvette Alexander, and Harry Thomas, Jr. have all signed on, along with 9 of their colleagues. We dump trash into the river that flows through the poorest parts of our city. Cleaning up their water, while giving free bags to those in need, will improve the quality of life for everyone, especially our neighborhoods along the Anacostia.

GGW has obtained a letter opposing the bill from Barry Scher, Vice President of Public Affairs for Giant Food. It’s strange that Giant is opposing this bill, since they already offer a five-cent credit for every bag a shopper brings in to reuse. That policy clearly pegs the value of each bag at five cents. This bill just codifies the same value. Meanwhile, other area supermarkets that don’t give any discounts today aren’t lobbying to kill the measure.

Does Giant’s corporate parent know what they are doing? The chain is part of Royal Ahold, an international grocery company based in Amsterdam. They operate grocery stores in the US, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, Norway, and the Baltic states. And on their Web site, Ahold makes clear statements about their commitment to sustainability and corporate responsibility.

In fact, Royal Ahold posts a policy on plastic bags, stating, “All of our supermarket companies offer reusable shopping bags and numerous opportunities to recycle plastic bags. In many of our operations, we charge consumers a small sum for plastic bags to discourage their use.” In the Netherlands, stores charge customers the equivalent of 25 cents for every single-use plastic bag. In Denmark, it’s 35 cents.

20,000 tons of trash enter the Anacostia River each year, and plastic bags comprise 47% of the trash in the tributaries. Royal Ahold believes in sustainable operations and good relations with their communities. In Europe, Ahold’s stores charge for every plastic bag. The company’s corporate statements even support this practice. Why, then, is Ahold’s U.S. operation lobbying against a similar bill here, but one that charges only a small fraction of what their stores endorse in Europe? Corporate responsibility doesn’t stop at the Atlantic’s edge. Ahold should tell their U.S. operation to get on board.

Image: From the Royal Ahold 2008 corporate responsibility report. Google translates this phrase as “This is an ordinary track [footprint?]. Your C02 footprint can be found in the eighth floor.” At the headquarters of Czech grocer Albert-Hypernova, employees received handouts and watched a presentation about corporate responsibility initiatives (presumably on the eighth floor of their building). Anyone speak Czech who can explain the first sentence?

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.